Thursday 8 December 2016

Sean O'Mahonys determined to follow Dundalk's trailblazing lead

Published 12/11/2016 | 02:30

Barry O’Brien and Conor Crawley of Sean O’Mahonys at the Leinster club championship launch last month. Photo: Sportsfile
Barry O’Brien and Conor Crawley of Sean O’Mahonys at the Leinster club championship launch last month. Photo: Sportsfile
David Crawley, who was Dundalk FC captain in 2002 when they claimed the FAI Cup. Photo: Sportsfile

The was no road to Damascus moment for Louth champions Sean O'Mahonys.

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No talented group of underage players that the club were waiting to come of age so they could scale new heights. No big-name manager. Just hard work and a bit of luck.

From there, club chairman Eamonn Doyle reckons momentum can take you anywhere. And it has.

Tomorrow the club take another step in the Leinster club SFC against Kildare champions Sarsfields. It's the latest step on an incredible journey that has brought them from Louth intermediate also-rans to rubbing shoulders with the best in the province.

Doyle reckons that since the Dundalk club went on their current run that started in early 2014, they have pulled from essentially the same group of players that had been toiling away for previous seasons for no great success. That year, something clicked, and they have been on the hamster wheel almost non-stop since. No one around the Point Road is complaining.

A Louth Intermediate title in 2014 was turned into Leinster glory. Along the way that year they beat this year's Dublin SFC finalists Castleknock. Doyle points out that Castleknock didn't have Ciaran Kilkenny that day but in beating the Westmeath, Kildare, Dublin and Meath champions to win their provincial title, few could quibble.

Two months later O'Mahonys lost the All-Ireland semi-final and there was disappointment but it was already time to suit up for a crack at the senior grade. They'd truck all to the way to the county final, but lose to St Pat's.

Between one thing and another, their 2015 season didn't wrap up until late November. They took a few weeks for Christmas and went again, reaching another county final this year. This time they were four points down inside the last ten minutes but found a way.

That was the club's first senior title. What followed was a blur but it involved being called to the altar at Sunday Mass to sing the club's anthem. Big nights and good times came for the tight-knit club. They are based in the town of Dundalk but they have a country touch. Doyle tells the story that the team that won the junior title in 1982 "came from two streets" and says that "anyone would describe us as a rural team based in a town."

Doyle points to the family connections down through the years. The sons and grandsons of men who have gone before populate the current side.

Their catchment area is squeezed by the presence of five other GAA clubs in the town along with Dundalk FC, which has a hold on the town not replicated in many other places. It's different in other places but soccer and GAA exist side by side in Dundalk. They just have to.

When O'Mahonys won this year's SFC title, a handful of the players were invited to Oriel Park and were applauded on to the pitch at half-time. Members of the current Dundalk squad can be spotted at O'Mahonys games. Defender Brian Gartland has connections to the club and is a regular. Stephen McDonnell has tipped along too.

Former League of Ireland player David Crawley picked up a senior medal this year to go with the intermediate one he won in 1998. In between that he captained Dundalk to an FAI Cup win in 2002. Indeed, O'Mahonys are sponsored by Fastfix, who are owned by the same people that own Dundalk FC.

Jim McLaughlin, the League of Ireland's most successful manager, has three grandsons on the O'Mahony's team. One of them, Ben McLaughlin, recently returned to the club after a couple of years cross-channel with Everton. He's been in good form for them this year and he's tipped to be in the Louth shake-up in 2017.

And while Dundalk's success might be expected to squeeze local GAA clubs in terms of the battle for hearts and minds, Doyle insists their run in Europe is a good thing.

"When Dundalk are going well it makes an awful difference to the town. And at games there you'd see the lads there in their Sean O'Mahonys tops. We are right beside Quay Celtic and we'd often work with them. Try and have training on nights they don't, move games. They do the same. We work hand in hand with them."

Having beaten Baltinglass in the opening round of Leinster, they welcome Sarsfields to Drogheda. O'Mahony's are rank outsiders with no established figures in the Louth set-up. And since they went on this winning run, they have been managed by men from inside the club. Still they haven't been taking too many backwards steps of late.

"Against Baltinglass, we didn't want to go down on the bus for the craic and have a day out. We said we'd try and win one game and see where that takes us. We've Sarsfields now and they'll be hot favourites but we'll see."

Irish Independent

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