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'Ballymun were seen as blow-ins in 1989 and we got very little help from refs'


Ballymun Kickhams players, (l-r) David Byrne, Dean Rock and James McCarthy following the Dublin SFC Group 1 Round 3 win over Thomas Davis at Parnell Park last weekend

Ballymun Kickhams players, (l-r) David Byrne, Dean Rock and James McCarthy following the Dublin SFC Group 1 Round 3 win over Thomas Davis at Parnell Park last weekend

Ballymun Kickhams players, (l-r) David Byrne, Dean Rock and James McCarthy following the Dublin SFC Group 1 Round 3 win over Thomas Davis at Parnell Park last weekend

A central theme in 'Passing It On', Sorcha Glackin's excellent documentary about Ballymun Kickhams that aired last week on RTÉ, is pride of place.

The sense of identity the players interviewed had with a much maligned part of Dublin, expressed through playing for its Gaelic football team.

Few clubs in Dublin wear their identity as explicitly as Ballymun Kickhams.

But it wasn't always so.

"No, it was certainly wasn't," says Kevin McStay, who played for one season for Ballymun in 1989.

"It wasn't exactly the United Nations, but there were a lot of players from outside Dublin involved when I was there."

When McStay joined, Ballymun had arguably the strongest squad of players in Dublin club football.

Accordingly, they'd won championships in 1982 and '85. But that hadn't soldered the sort of bond between the team and the area they represented that exists now.

"They were a very young club," McStay pointed out.

"And they had very little in the way of tradition - even though they were winning a lot, almost from the moment they were formed.

"But they had no facilities. None. When you don't have a HQ or a central hub, it is an issue."

"That sense of identity obviously came later."

The story of McStay's single season in Ballymun, in which they were beaten in a county final in which he didn't play, is littered with little coincidences.

In 1987, the former Roscommon manager suffered a bad leg break before a Connacht club final with his home club, Ballina Stephenites.


Stationed in Collins Barracks with the Irish defence forces and living in Dublin, he missed all of 1988 with club and county and after some persuasion from Tom Carr, decided to give Ballymun a season.

"I was fed up of the commute really," McStay recalls. "Between the driving and the leg break, it made the decision for me."

They might not have had a home to call their own, but Ballymun certainly had a team at that time.

McStay, Carr, John McCarthy, Barney Rock, Anto McCaul, Gerry Hargan, Declan Sheehan, John Kearns and Tom Browne of Limerick were all part of the set-up.

The club had won their first two county titles earlier in the decade and a third seemed more a probability than a possibility.

"We had a savage team," McStay says.

"But there was never any great sense of club the way the current players have. For me, principally, that was because my focus was more on Mayo.

"But I loved the games in Dublin. They were completely different to club games in Mayo.

"But you could sense that other clubs saw Ballymun as having a lot of blow-ins. And we got very little protection from referees in Dublin at that time."

McStay scored well that year in a jewel-encrusted forward line.

Misfortune would see him miss the county final, however.

A week before Ballymun played an emerging Thomas Davis team, McStay had his jaw dislocated in an off-the-ball incident playing for Mayo in the Connacht final against Galway.

The match finished in a draw and with the replay fixed for a week after the Dublin SFC decider, he was forced to watch from the sidelines as Davis, powered by the class of Paul Curran and Dave Foran, won the first of their three-in-a-row.

As fate would have it, in the preamble to the subsequent All-Ireland SFC final between Mayo and Cork (the match programme for which lists McStay's club as Ballymun Kickhams), John O'Mahony recruited the coaching expertise of Brendan Hackett - the current Ballymun manager - for a handful of training sessions.

In another quirk of history, Curran was Ballymun manager in 2013 when McStay managed St Brigid's to a dramatic, come-from-behind victory in the All-Ireland club decider.

"That team had fantastic players. I never played on a team with so many good players. And it's hard to believe we didn't win that final," McStay recalls.

"But Ballymun in my time were a team, not a club.

"And I think that's got to do with having a permanent facility and having proper structures and not wandering around from pitch to pitch like a nomadic tribe.

"Whereas now, clearly, they're both."

"We probably weren't that well managed," he says of the Ballymun set-up of that year.

"We'd come together and do a bit of training, but not to the extent of Thomas Davis. We used to train on that pitch beside the Ballymun entrance to DCU and we'd tog by the side of the pitch."

This, McStay notes, could be a big year for Ballymun. They haven't won a county title since Curran guided them to their third in 2012.

In the years since, the squad's All-Ireland medal count has outgrown most counties, yet a fourth Dublin SFC has remained frustratingly elusive.

"The most impressive thing to me was, up front they're very strong," says McStay, who was in Parnell Park on Saturday in his role as RTÉ match analyst.


"Paddy Small, for me, was the best player I saw all weekend.

"Just by being explosive and knowing where the goal is. He gets caught for over carrying more than he should. But he's really dangerous.

"Massive power. Really skilful on the ball. He maybe just needs to connect (with team mates) a bit more."

"So from midfield up, they definitely have the ammunition."

"The irony is, I was saying to our director on Saturday night, 'Ballymun are getting their stuff together. They're going to be the team to beat.'

"Ironically … they have all the goods to win this. But there's no Leinster or All-Ireland this year. Ballymun have an All-Ireland standard set-up. They have the material.

"And they have a very good management situation. But unfortunately there is no Leinster or All-Ireland this year."

"They have everything going for them," McStay adds.

"They're going to take a lot of beating."