Thursday 27 April 2017

Moran hails O'Byrne Cup as ideal launch-pad for Dubs stars of the future

Former skipper confident Gavin's pre-season policy will bear fruit by unearthing new first-team regulars

Former Dubs skipper Colin Moran. Photo: Ray McManus / Sportsfile
Former Dubs skipper Colin Moran. Photo: Ray McManus / Sportsfile
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

Humble though it may be, the Bórd na Mona O'Byrne Cup carries a special place in the heart of footballers who go on to play at the top level with Dublin.

Colly Moran, the former Dubs skipper whose career was cut short by persistent injury eight years ago, was one of those fledgling stars whose first opportunity to shine came in January 1999, when he made his maiden senior start, against Carlow.

A few months earlier - the National League began in October back in those days - Moran (pictured), then aged 18, made his debut as a late substitute against Tyrone, but getting a place in the starting 15 the following January meant a lot to him.

"It was a huge deal for me at the time. I remember I played all the games up to the final and I had to miss the final because I had underage club commitments, a match I had to play," he says.

"I would have loved to be in the final. When you're young like that you're trying to make the breakthrough. It's a great opportunity."

Moran learned his football at Ballyboden St Enda's, and went on to win Leinster medals in 2006 and '07. He also played inter-provincial football with Leinster and represented Ireland in the International Rules, but he never took the O'Byrne Cup for granted.

"Even when you're an established player, the way I always looked on it, you'd be looking behind you at the new players coming up in the O'Byrne Cup," he explains.

"They'd be hoping to take your position so you'd always want to do well. It was always a competition I enjoyed playing in."

For all their traditional strength, Dublin have not won the competition very often in the last 20 years.

They had that success in 1999, when the final which Moran missed was against tomorrow's opponents Louth.

He was on board for the 2007 win over Laois, and the 2008 victory against Longford, both after extra-time. Dublin then had to wait until 2015 for their most recent victory, this time against Kildare, who had defeated them in the 2013 decider.

The main object of the exercise is to give likely candidates a chance to show their ability but the big difference for the team temporarily managed by Paul Clarke this year - Jim Gavin had handed him the reins until the pre-season competition ends - is that none of the first-teamers are involved.

It's rated as effectively Dublin's third team, and while that is a tad patronising given that some of the players have won underage All-Ireland medals, this is a novelty exercise which should catch the imagination of the fans.

"What has happened this January is an incredible opportunity for those guys," says Moran.

"Paul Clarke, who I've worked with for a number of years, is a very passionate guy, and I'm sure he would have been selling the opportunity in the dressing-room to those guys, that it was an opportunity to shine and maybe get into the first squad.

"Obviously not all of them will, but some of them will look back on it as the highlight of their career.

"Some will never play League or Championship but if they've the opportunity of winning an O'Byrne Cup title with Dublin, it's a day they'll treasure forever."

Louth will certainly not want to emulate Kildare who led the Dubs 2-4 to 0-4 at one stage in the semi-final last week, yet ended up losing 0-16 to 2-8.

"I'd say it's a big blow to their (Kildare's) confidence. It's not what they want in January before they head into a League," says Moran. "I suppose it's a reflection of the gap that's in Leinster at the moment."

In 2007 and '08 era, the likes of Bernard Brogan, Ger Brennan, Diarmuid Connolly and Philly McMahon came through the ranks and won their first senior medals for Dublin in the O'Byrne Cup.

Their example inspires Clarke, whose stint as manager of the current group ends tomorrow.

If he can see one or more players go on to establish themselves as first teamers, he will be delighted.

Irish Independent

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