Monday 26 June 2017

There will be skin and hair flying - O'Brien

'While not reaching the heights achieved under Ryan, Wexford were consistent during O'Brien's (pictured) two-year term, making successive Leinster semi-finals while blooding a number of rookies' Photo: Sportsfile
'While not reaching the heights achieved under Ryan, Wexford were consistent during O'Brien's (pictured) two-year term, making successive Leinster semi-finals while blooding a number of rookies' Photo: Sportsfile

Michael Verney

With the distinction of donning the maroon and white of Westmeath before going on to manage Wexford's footballers, clashes between the two counties are always intriguing for Aidan O'Brien, and today's Division 4 final will be no different.

O'Brien, originally from St Malachy's/Ballinagore, moved to Wexford 31 years ago to take up a post as a PE and English teacher in Good Counsel College, New Ross, and while he continued to play with the Lake County from 1986-90, even defeating the Model men in the 1989 Leinster SFC, he eventually made permanent residence in the sunny south east.

He has enjoyed considerable success, leading Good Counsel to the Hogan Cup in 1999 - the only Wexford school to reach football's second-level pinnacle - before guiding the Model U-21s to a Leinster final (2008) and graduating to the senior job in 2013, succeeding Jason Ryan.

While not reaching the heights achieved under Ryan, Wexford were consistent during O'Brien's two-year term, making successive Leinster semi-finals while blooding a number of rookies, and the Adamstown clubman takes satisfaction in their promotion from the League's bottom tier under Seamus 'Banty' McEnaney.

With intimate knowledge of the Wexford squad, having coached or taught the vast majority, and loyalties in the Westmeath camp - he's related to wing-back James Dolan, while his nephew Niall O'Brien plays with the hurlers - he believes a win is crucial for both, with neither expected to spare anything to collect silverware.

"The job is most certainly only half done for both sides, they'll be absolutely gunning to lift that trophy.

"How often are Westmeath or Wexford going to have opportunities to win a national title? Not very often," O'Brien says.

"They will both be flat out to win it. This is the most realistic opportunity for either of them to lift meaningful silverware this year so there's no question that both teams will be full on to win, there will be skin and hair flying."

O'Brien feels the Leinster Championship is heating up with big hitters like Kildare and Meath looking to knock Westmeath and Wexford down the pecking order, so today's game takes on even more significance ahead of the summer.

"You go into the Championship in a certain type of bonus territory if you win it," he says.

"For Westmeath there's nearly more at stake than there is for Wexford, they've been in two Leinster finals and if they come out of it with nothing it's a pretty threadbare period for them and it's definitely not going to get any easier for them as the summer goes on."

Tom Cribbin's side hockeyed a second-string Wexford in the group stages, a game O'Brien feels has little relevance to today; he says it's "too hard to call". As for his loyalties, where do they lie?

"My family are born and reared in Wexford and I'd be much more intimately familiar with Wexford football than Westmeath football at this stage," the deputy principal explains.

"If Westmeath were playing anyone else I'd be allied to them.

"But if I didn't side with Wexford I'd be shot, I have to live down here! I'll go with the lads I know best: I know the ability that this group have and a trophy would be just deserts."

Irish Independent

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