Wednesday 7 December 2016

Michael Darragh Macauley: Ballyboden hurlers have been fantastic in push for football glory

Underage development is paying rich dividends for former 'hurling club'

Damian Lawlor

Published 06/12/2015 | 02:30

Darragh Nelson, from left, Darren O'Reilly, and Michael Darragh Macauley
Darragh Nelson, from left, Darren O'Reilly, and Michael Darragh Macauley

Ballyboden St Enda's surprised people by winning this year's Dublin senior football title. Their powerhouse midfielder Michael Darragh Macauley acknowledged as much in the build-up to today's Leinster final against Portlaoise.

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"We've been called a hurling club for years," he said. "Even the Dublin chairman (Seán Shanley) came out to us and gave us a speech after we won the county final and the first thing he said was, 'I thought this was a hurling club'. He said he had his speech planned for St Vincent's that night.

"But there hasn't been rivalry (with the Ballyboden hurlers). They have been fantastic and the good thing is that we have players who play with both. So it's not like with the Dublin team, where they play with one or the other."

The club is indeed a productive dual set-up. Having won five Dublin senior hurling championships in a row between 2007 and 2011, they have provided a wealth of players to county teams, but when they beat St Vincent's in the football decider it was a blunt reminder that they can thrive in both codes. They say that has always been the goal and that they remain the only club in the country to have claimed county titles in all four codes - senior hurling, senior football, ladies' football and camogie.

Conal Keaney of Ballyboden St. Enda's, in action against Dessie Finnegan of St Patrick's
Conal Keaney of Ballyboden St. Enda's, in action against Dessie Finnegan of St Patrick's

But they want to be more than just a GAA outfit. In recent years they have been hit with tragedy and they always keep an eye out for those left behind. In June, they lost a fine young man in Eoghan Culligan and news of his sad passing in the Berkeley tragedy was keenly felt.

They owe much to many, not least Terry O'Neill, one of three brothers, another of whom is Paudie, the ex-Tipperary hurling coach and a current member of Croke Park's Hurling Development Committee. Terry designed the club's 2020 strategic plan 10 years back and plotted for, not just the expected mushrooming of playing numbers, but the success that could be associated with such a rise in their ranks. His project planned also for an All-Ireland final appearance on St Patrick's Day for both the senior hurlers and footballers.

"Another huge appointment was that of Brian O'Regan," says the club officer. "He came in under Enda McNulty (the club's coaching director between 2001 and '05) and took charge of our development after Enda moved on. Brian has been incredible. I rate him as the top coach in the country. He has fostered the academy here and has run foundation and other courses for every one of our 30 or so coaches at the club. This work drives what success we have had and has helped produce the younger players who are in our senior side right now."

And their 2015 exploits are not over yet, they hope. Standing in their way are Portlaoise, in their third Leinster final in four seasons. But they haven't won this since 2009 and that's a poor return considering their domination at home.

Ballyboden, meanwhile, have seen a changing of the guard since their last Dublin championship win. For a long time their underage structure was the talk of the town, but it took some time for that production line to meet its targets.

"I'd been hearing for years about these young fellas winning at underage for Ballyboden, winning Féiles and coming up through minors, potential superstars in the making," admits Macauley. "And they're finally hitting 19, 20 now and breaking into our team and really pushing for places and establishing themselves as senior players who are as good or better than anyone on the team.

"Then you have - I won't put myself in the oul' fellas group yet, I reckon I've another year to go - but yes, there's the likes of Conal Keaney, Stephen Hiney, Declan O'Mahony and Andrew Kerins, who've been around for a long time and seen it all before. It's impossible to win a championship with too much experience or too much youth - we have a nice little balance at the moment.

"We've only won three Dublin championships," Macauley added. "We know how hard they are to come by, so this is completely unprecedented territory for us, to be in a Leinster final."

Donegal goalkeeper Paul Durcan has moved to work in Doha, but is back to play today; however, they will be without one of their dual stars in Dotsy O'Callaghan who is travelling across America. He will be a loss but they negotiated their semi-final without him.

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And while it's the big names the media instantly turn to, there is a sense at the club that it is the team's unknown players who are at the wheel for this campaign. The Basquel brothers, Ryan and Colm, Stephen O'Connor, Darren O'Reilly and Aaron Waters have all played key roles in this season's evolvement. They feel, too, that manager Andy McEntee has instilled a sense of belief in the side. They respect Portlaoise but they do not fear them.

"There is a huge chance for the lads, they are young and hungry and it would be great to keep this run going," continues the club officer. "We have reached this stage of the season without much fuss and it suits us. There is a real sense that the lads want to keep this run going."

When two teams with serious momentum lock horns, something has to give. If it is Ballyboden who eventually yield, you sense they won't fold easily.

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