Athy’s star pupils in bid to master Dalton
SCHOOLBOY dreams are on the line in the fascinating Athy v Edenderry Leinster Club Senior Football Championship clash in Newbridge tomorrow, but they're not necessarily all wrapped up in hazy fantasies of glory.
For some of the Athy team, it's a chance to win bragging rights over one of their teachers.
Perhaps there might even be the chance to have a good skelp off him too -- all in the name of a full-blooded tackle, of course.
The battle between Edenderry skipper Richie Dalton and a number of his Leaving Cert pupils from Scoil na Trionoide in Athy is only one of the elements that make this contest a bit special.
David Hyland and Tony Gibbons were in the starting 15 for the Kildare final against Carbury, while another pupil, Niall Kelly, came on as sub, but Sean Ronan, Killian Mulhall, and David O'Toole are also on the Athy panel.
Dalton has enjoyed the craic, and even took the Offaly championship trophy to the school to show the lads.
"I've been getting plenty of slagging from other teachers and students, but it's all good fun," said Dalton.
Both sets of players have enjoyed their county victories, all the more so because neither club had won a senior title for quite a few years.
Edenderry waited 10 years for a return to the top in Offaly, while Athy hadn't won the Kildare senior championship since 1987.
The Offaly champions won with a team that included four 19-year-olds -- full-back David Hanlon, half-forward Ciaran Hurley, corner-forward Derek Kelly and full-forward Stuart Cullen -- and 10 players in total aged under 23.
Athy started their final with 11 players aged 21 or under, with more minors and U-21s sprinkled through their panel.
Now they are in uncharted territory in the Leinster Club Championship and the respective managers, Mark Brophy of Athy and Peter Brady from Edenderry, will be hoping they've got everything right in the build-up.
One drawback -- and it's a big one -- for Athy is that skipper and county player Mick Foley, recently named as an All Star, has gone on his travels around the Southern Hemisphere.
"The plans were made before the county final and it's a pity Mick's trip coincides with the Leinster championship," said Brophy.
"He'll be a loss to us, but we have a strong panel. They are very young, but there are plenty of wise heads on young shoulders and Mick's absence means there's a chance for someone else."
Brophy played in the 1995 county final, which Athy lost to Clane and that was his club's only appearance in the decider up to this year's final.
As a mentor, he has played an important role in helping the club to prominence at minor and U-21 level.
The current senior team relies heavily on the minor panels that won three successive Kildare titles from 2008-2010 inclusive and that also claimed the county U-21 crown.
"Some of these lads have three minor medals, an U-21 medal and now a senior medal. Tony Gibbons, who is the Kildare minor captain, is one of those lads," said Brophy.
"At the other end of the scale, you have Emmanuel Kennedy, who's 35 years of age and now has a senior medal.
"The thing about this game is that it's a real 50-50 match. If either team was playing one of the bigger, more experienced clubs in Leinster, they might not have the same belief for this match, but there will be no fear within either camp.
"These young lads have no hang-ups, no baggage and they'll just go and play their hearts out."
The two clubs have had a contrasting build-up, but each manager is happy with his lot.
Edenderry boss Brady gave his players a week off after the victory over Clara and then got them back into training and playing a few challenge games.
Most of Athy's squad had to go straight into action the week after the senior final to play in the Kildare U-21 championship and, to date, they have had victories over Moorefield and Sarsfields.
"They would have been playing last weekend, too, but two other teams had a drawn quarter-final, so we've had the lads back with us and that has worked out," said Brophy.
Edenderry have injury doubts about Wayne Mooney (achilles tendon), Basil Malone (hamstring) and Dalton (dead leg), but they are all expected to be fit for duty.
Brady, the former Offaly star who won five county medals with Edenderry, expects a really tough match in Newbridge.
"I've watched a DVD of Athy and we've noted their career through the minor ranks. They are young, but they've a couple of older, experienced lads," he said.
"I'm sure Mick Foley will be a big loss to them, but we've seen how they have got some great starts in matches, and we'll hope to match them early on.
"Their county final was effectively over in the first half when they were something like eight points up.
"I know Carbury came back into it, but we can't afford to let them have a good start against us.
"We know it will be tough, especially as we're away, but there's a great incentive for both teams, with the Laois, Dublin and Meath champions in the other side of the draw," added Brady.
The winners tomorrow will meet Carlow champions Old Leighlin on tomorrow week.