Saturday 29 April 2017

'I haven't given up on the dream' ambition to one day lift the Delaney Cup

Wicklow captain Leighton Glynn talks to Christy O'Connor about his burning

Leighton Glynn has decided to give up his hurling career with Wicklow in favour of focusing on football.
Leighton Glynn has decided to give up his hurling career with Wicklow in favour of focusing on football.

When the scheduling of the Christy Ring Cup was altered this year, Leighton Glynn knew he was in trouble.

Tomorrow could have been one of the best days of Glynn's dual career because, with Wicklow having home advantage for their Ring semi-final against Kildare, they have a real chance of making the final at Croke Park.

Instead, Glynn will just be a spectator, with his focus instead on the footballers' clash against the Lilywhites in Portlaoise on Sunday.

"It's a tough decision because it's a great opportunity for the hurlers to get to Croke Park," says Glynn.

"But I've trained with the footballers all year, I'm captain and it would be tough on the lads if I played a hurling match before our biggest football game of the year.

"I still find it hard, though. I've never played hurling at Croke Park and my brother and a load of club team-mates are on the team."

Given Glynn's relentless schedule over the years, the decision was inevitable. Last October, he played three hard matches in the space of just 45 hours.

After featuring for Ireland in the International Rules in Limerick on Saturday evening, Glynn had to line out for Rathnew in the Leinster club football championship in Navan on Sunday. Then on the Bank Holiday Monday, he had to head to Carlow for Glenealy's Leinster club hurling championship match against St Mullins.

Withdrew

Trying to compartmentalise hurling and football had always been a feature of his career. Back in 2006, Rathnew withdrew all their players from county hurling and football teams because Glynn was expected to play two Christy Ring Cup matches, two club football championship matches and an All-Ireland qualifier against Monaghan in the space of just two weeks.

In the modern history of the GAA, nobody has embodied the plight of the dual player more than Glynn. This is primarily because he is in the rare position of being one of the best players in the county in both codes, while he also plays with extremely strong hurling and football clubs (he scored 2-2 in both the Wicklow hurling and football finals last year).

Trying to combine both codes at inter-county level came to a head over two years ago when Glynn underwent a groin operation and was advised by the surgeon Gerry McEntee to row back. He didn't play with the hurlers at the outset of this season but was asked back into the squad when Wicklow reached the Division 3A league final. He played in that win over Derry but couldn't commit for the Christy Ring Cup.

"We agreed that if the hurling interfered with the football, I would have to pull the plug," says Glynn. "It's very frustrating in a way but it's nearly impossible now to be a dual player. There are just too many games going on, between club and county."

Glynn made his senior debut with the Wicklow hurlers at just 17, but he was always good at whatever he turned his hand to. Ten years ago, St Patrick's Athletic were hoping to bring him to the club, and he was also being tracked by Bray Wanderers, Shelbourne and Bohemians.

It's been football, though, where he has really made his name. In 2008, he became just the third Wicklow footballer to be chosen to play for Ireland in the International Rules series, scoring 10 points in the first Test. His form peaked a year later when he probably should have been Wicklow's second All Star recipient.

Glynn has been the outstanding player of the Mick O'Dwyer era in Wicklow and his development and profile has mirrored the tangible progress the county has made in that time.

Before O'Dwyer arrived in 2007, Wicklow hadn't won a Leinster championship match since 2000, and their previous championship win was in a qualifier against London in 2002.

Wicklow won the Tommy Murphy Cup in 2007, securing the county's first championship win at Croke Park and only their second national title in the process. The only downside is that they've remained rooted in Division 4, but their championship record has improved. Although they lost to Louth after three games in 2007, Wicklow have never been beaten in their opening championship match under O'Dwyer.

"We put more emphasis on getting out of Division 4 this year," says Glynn. "We only lost one match -- by one point -- but we just had too many draws. It was disappointing but we just have a manager who prepares his team for the first round of the championship. We've always peaked come championship time against good teams and I don't think anyone likes to draw us.

"We're an experienced enough team when it comes to championship and, now that Micko is in his fifth year, our supporters think we should be competing in Leinster finals. We have that ambition but it's difficult to get that far in a province with 11 teams."

O'Dwyer's presence in Wicklow, though, was always about more than just lifting the Delaney Cup. After decades of chasing All-Irelands and provincial titles, O'Dwyer's task in Wicklow was primarily seeking to form a tradition in a county that had none; before he arrived, Wicklow had won only 32 of their 135 championship matches in 120 years.

O'Dwyer's influence needed to stretch beyond the parameters of the pitch and the confines of results. Glynn is a GAA games development administrator in the county and he has seen first-hand the empirical benefits that can accrue from being associated with the O'Dwyer phenomenon.

"His influence has been massive," he says. "You can see that young lads want to play for Wicklow now and that the jersey really means something to them.

"When I started playing county football, you'd hardly see any Wicklow jerseys around the place. Now, every third kid has a Wicklow jersey. There's huge coaching work being done in the county and you'd be hoping that we'll reap the rewards of the Micko hype in the next six or seven years.

"As well as the hype, Micko has also brought expectation. I can't remember Wicklow being shown live on TV before Micko arrived but now we're nearly one of the first games televised every summer."

With his suspicion of some more modern cutting-edge techniques, O'Dwyer might no longer be able to take a team to the very highest level. But with his innate grasp of more fundamental sources of confidence, there's no manager better at bringing a team to any other level. His secret has always been to get people thinking positively, especially about themselves. Transmitting that positive message has always been a key strength.

Plus, his teams always aim to play attractive football. "Micko takes what he wants from the modern stuff, but his tactics are just to outscore the other team," says Glynn. "A lot of teams now concentrate more on not conceding than scoring but even if we wanted to, I don't think we'd be physically or mentally set up to play a defensive game. We'll just have a go."

For Glynn, one Leinster title with Wicklow would be the ultimate gold. "One with Wicklow would be as good as 10 with another county," he says. "I haven't given up on the dream. You never know. I've a few years left and anything can happen in this game."

Given his relentless drive, Glynn is entitled to believe.

Irish Independent

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