Sunday 21 July 2019

O'Donoghue feels Irelands can unlock the Kingdom

AIB All-Ireland JFC

John Savage

When Adrian O'Donoghue sat his new squad down this time last year and chalked up an All-Ireland Junior Championship title on the to-do list, it must have raised a few eyebrows in the Dundalk Young Irelands' dressing room.

Louth's oldest club was still smarting from a humiliating 2017 campaign that ended with relegation from both league and championship, but O'Donoghue doesn't do self pity and set his stall out accordingly.

After a domestic double and a glorious march to the Leinster title, O'Donoghue's troops now sit on the cusp of an All-Ireland final. Kingdom champions Beaufort stand menacingly in the way on Sunday afternoon in O'Moore Park, Poartlaoise (2.00).

Kerry teams usually come out of Munster without too much fuss and thereafter Munster reps have won 10 of the 17 Junior Club All-Irelands played since 2002. By contrast, only four Leinster teams have reached the decider and just three have sealed the deal. But even that doesn't faze an upbeat O'Donoghue.

'We've drilled it into the players from the start that unless you set your goals and targets high, it's pointless turning up. If you're happy with mediocrity, you'll only ever get mediocrity,' he says. 

'I'm a great believer that when you have a group of players who commit, are focused and determined you can achieve pretty much anything. For us it's a wonderful achievement to win a Leinster Junior, really and truly it is, but we really just looked upon it as the quarter-final of an All-Ireland because that's the real target.

'Then we want to go on and win Intermediate and return to senior. That's ultimately what we do this for, if we win an All-Ireland this year it's not the end, it's the beginning for this group.'

It's a refreshing attitude in a county that tends to wear its underdog tag like a noose at times, but it's certainly not all bluster. Under O'Donoghue Young Irelands have honed an extremely effective, if slightly rigid, system and it has served them well.

A typical Kerry team, Beaufort tend to be a bit more expansive in their approach and they have supplied quite a few players to Kerry's All-Ireland five-in-a-row minor teams.

O'Donoghue knows all about them and has even rented the DVD, but he insists the scouting process does little more than take away a bit of the mystique associated with playing a team you don't know.

'We've been very lucky that we've been able to get plenty of information, but I've no doubt they have been able to get plenty on us too. 

'Information is great if you know what to do with it, but all you're doing is making yourself aware of them. You don't really fundamentally understand the way they play, what their dynamics are. You get opinions and we've seen them play and they play senior league in Kerry, so they're not a bad team if they're operating at that level. But that's all we know, so all you can do is make yourself aware of the competition. 

'Our guys take every game seriously, it doesn't matter if you put an U-12 team or Dublin out against us, they'll approach it the same way; they expect to win every game but take nobody for granted.'

But Adrian has seen enough of Beaufort to expect a real good tussle, with the wide-open expanses of O'Moore Park the ideal setting.

'It's a great venue for both teams and it's great for the supporters too. It will suit us because we like a good open pitch like our own here, so I think it will make it interesting. We're similar in a couple of ways, but largely I think we're two contrasting teams that will go at it toe-to-toe. 

'It should be entertaining, but it's a championship semi-final and it's all about getting over the line. We'll take winning ugly, a penalty in the last minute, whatever, we don't care; getting over the line is the ultimate goal. We have to be ruthless on the pitch and ruthless on the sideline.'

O'Donoghue and his selectors have no major injury concerns and reveals that the few small niggles they do have stem from ultra-competitive in-house matches.

'We have a couple of little things, which you get at this time of the year and we've put in a few very hard training sessions, so you expect that. You have men playing for positions so they're not holding back.

'It's been difficult to get challenge matches at this time of year, we had a few approaches and made a few approaches but nothing manifested itself. We only wanted challenges against teams similar to what we're going to play and at this time of year that's difficult to find. We're very fortunate to have the numbers to play in-house games and we've had some great, competitive 15v15 games that were very productive.

'We're lucky because our panel has grown since last year because we had guys that weren't eligible to play, but are now mad to get involved. They're very good, competent players and they'll add to the panel. I don't think we've ever been in a position like this where we have 33 training tonight and every one of them are capable of playing on Sunday. So we're very happy with the depth in the panel.'

Extending the club season into the new year has become a bone of contention in recent seasons, but O'Donoghue says the club embraced the festive season.

'Christmas was extra enjoyable because this is a family club, but don't get me wrong we put the boys through a serious session the first night back, probably the hardest we've had in a long time. 

'But the lads are disciplined, they enjoy the process that we're going through and they're willing to work harder than ever. 

'Ultimately that's what will win you an All-Ireland, it's their effort and commitment and the confidence and mental strength they have. That's all been developed throughout the last year and it's been very impressive to watch.'

Drogheda Independent