Sunday 17 December 2017

GAA to his bones

Dublin's Paul Flynn celebrates after the game. GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship, Semi-Final, Dublin v Kerry, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE
Dublin's Paul Flynn celebrates after the game. GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship, Semi-Final, Dublin v Kerry, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

John manning

IF you are looking for tickets for this week's All-Ireland Football Final then please don't ask the Dublin GAA County Chairman – he has none to give!


Tickets for the big match between the Dubs and Mayo are like the proverbial hen's teeth and for Fingal Ravens man and Dublin County Chairman, Andy Kettle, the refrain: 'Any tickets for the match, Andy?' has become an all too familiar one over the last couple of weeks.

The trouble is that Dublin has been allocated 6,000 tickets less than the ones that were quickly snapped up for the 2011 All-Ireland when the Dubs faced and beat the men of Kerry. Back then, a healthier allocation was aided by the fact that Dublin were also in the minor final and it was before Croke Park began its yearly ticket scheme that has taken another chunk out of the Dubs' allocation.

In an exclusive pre-big match interview with the Fingal Independent, Andy Kettle explained: 'From the county board's point of view the biggest problem we have this year is the tickets. I have huge sympathy for genuine supporters who can't get their hands on a ticket.

'Every club in the county has been having a horrendous few days trying to explain to people why they can't get tickets ordered and trying to distribute the few that they have.'

Despite the ticketing headache, Andy would not be anywhere else. Days to go to an All-Ireland Final and the Dubs in flying form with a big win against the men of Kerry and now only the men of Mayo lay in their way.

'You enjoy being there and you enjoy the feeling of being in an All-Ireland Final but I admit the logistics around all of that can be a bit of a strain,' the county board chairman said.

Andy is a GAA man to his bones and has been involved in the game in one way or another for more than 55 years from playing as a juvenile for Fingallians and then Fingal Ravens through to coaching juveniles and ultimately getting involved in the administration of the organisation.

He is rooted in the Fingal game and in Fingal Ravens in particular so it is with great pride he will see a team full of Fingal connections step out onto the hallowed turf at Croke Park next Sunday.

Andy Kettle said he took a conscious decision that as chairman, he would not sit in the stands with a suit on but he would be in a tracksuit and on the line as Dublin teams took to the field.

He has witnessed first hand, the work going on behind the scenes to make this the year the Dublin footballers regain the Sam Maguire for the second time in three outings after a long winless gap between 1995 and 2011.

Helping them get there has been a handful of Fingal men who have been steady fixtures in manager, Jim Gavin's squad of 26 players and Andy had a word of praise for all of them, starting with fellow Fingal Ravens man, Darren 'Butsy' Daly.

'Number one, I'm delighted for Darren. He has had a lot more Championship game time this year. Jim Gavin sticks rigidly to a squad of 26 and he has been in that 26 all year. He is probably a bit unlucky not to be starting.'

On Fingallians' man, Paul Flynn, the Dublin County Chairman is unstinting in his praise. 'Paul is an integral part of the team. Even though he is only 26, he is one of the senior members of the squad and by his nature he is a leader.'

Although not playing his football in Fingal, Dean Rock lives in Ballamadun and has come off the bench several times this year to score key points for the Dubs. On Dean, Andy said: 'It has been great to see Dean progress from minor to the under-21s and on to the senior squad. He has a great year playing for Ballymun and DCU and he has thrived in a very competitive position in the Dublin team and has come off the bench to score vital points.'

Jim Gavin has renewed a relationship with another Fingal man that he struck up as Dublin's under-21 coach. That is with Kevin O'Brien of Naomh Mearnogs who Andy said has succeeded in making the 'step up' from that team to the seniors.

'He has blended into the senior team and done a super job for Jim Gavin. He has loads of big match experience and I don't see anything phasing him.'

Another Portmarnock man in the squad is Shane Carthy. He played for the minors last year and has quickly made the leap to senior level. The county chairman said: 'He is regularly in the match day 26 and is very close to a starting position. 'He is certainly one for the future. There is some age in the midfield and Shane would be a ready made replacement for the centre of the field.'

Last but definitely not least is the Dubs last All-Ireland winning captain and still a vital member of the team in Bryan Cullen of Skerries Harps. Andy said: 'Bryan Cullen is a very important part of the panel and he's been there and done it all, going back to the U21 team in 2003. He is very much in the mix for a starting spot and if not, an introduction onto the pitch if anyone is not doing their stuff.'

With the Kilkenny-beating heroics of the Dublin Hurlers its been a great year at senior level for the Dubs across the codes but the county chairman is not resting on his laurels and says there is work to be done at underage level where the capital county has not been up to scratch this year.

'It has been a great year at senior level in both codes but that has masked a little disappointment in minor and under-21 level in both codes.

'We have to keep looking down the line and make sure everyone is working down the line to bring the talent forward to take the county forward.'

The county chairman was full of praise for Dubs manager, Jim Gavin who has brought on a bewildering number of young talent onto the team and has seen that strategy rewarded.

'I've got to know Jim quite well. He is a very, very strong manager and good to work with because you always know where you stand with him. When you reach an agreement on something, that is it – he will totally stand over his decisions.

'It has worked out exceptionally well for him so far and his pitch decision have worked brilliantly without exception, both in his team selections and his substitutions.'

There's another Fingal Ravens connection in Gavin's back room team with the presence of former Ravens manager, Mick Deegan as a selector.

Andy Kettle knows Deegan well and said: 'Mick and myself go back years with Ravens and I have got to know him extremely well. I never had any doubt that Mick would be a huge addition to any inter-county management team.'

The management team have done their best to shield the players from the hype but ultimately it is unavoidable and the players have to deal with it. They may be young but they are equipped to deal with the pressure, according to Andy Kettle.

He said: 'In the end they have to manage it themselves. They do get advice on how to manage the hype but in the end it's down to them.

'Because these players have been involved in big games at minor and under-21 level, they won't get carried away. They are a very level headed bunch of young lads.'

So the battle lines are drawn and those golden tickets are locked away in a safe for those lucky enough to have one and only a few days remain to find out if the Dubs will lift Sam Maguire again - so what does the county chairman think?

'I was of the opinion before the Kerry match would be our biggest problem and I was reasonably confident we could get a result against Mayo.

'So, we have beaten Kerry and I'm still reasonably confident we can get a result against Mayo.'

He hopes for the kind of classic match witnessed in the semi-final but he is happy to sacrifice a classic game for the right result. The county chairman concluded: 'It is all about winning on Sunday. If we win a bad game, I'll take that over losing a good one.'

Fingal Independent

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