| 16.3°C Dublin

Hackett happy to have blues

'Mun boss has Dublin contingent all to himself


Ballymun Kickhams’ Brendan Hackett says it’s incredible that the club is able to compete at such a high level. Photo: Sportsfile

Ballymun Kickhams’ Brendan Hackett says it’s incredible that the club is able to compete at such a high level. Photo: Sportsfile

Ballymun Kickhams’ Brendan Hackett says it’s incredible that the club is able to compete at such a high level. Photo: Sportsfile

Brendan Hackett can still recall the conversation, soon after he agreed to become manager of Ballymun Kickhams.

He was told that the players you see in June "will not be the same players in September and October. Because it's just simple exhaustion."

It's doubtful that John F Kennedy and this northside GAA citadel have been referenced too often in the same sentence, but one of JFK's famous utterances - "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country" - springs to mind.

If you substitute "county" for "country", you've a metaphor for what Ballymun have done for Dublin football over the past decade.

The marquee quartet of James McCarthy, Philly McMahon, Dean Rock and John Small, more recently joined by Evan Comerford and Paddy Small … no one club has delivered such a conveyor belt of players who have contributed to the All-Ireland cause.

That's before you factor in another handful who featured in Sky Blue at some point in the 'twenty-tens', be it Seán Currie, Davey Byrne, Jason Whelan, Alan Hubbard or Seán George.

Ballymun's altruism hasn't exactly been rewarded in kind - not, in fairness, through any fault of Pat Gilroy or Jim Gavin.

It's just the nature of the GAA season.

But now that season has been flipped, and Hackett is among those club bosses reaping the benefits of the altered calendar.

In his third year at the Ballymun coalface, Hackett has qualified this decorated squad for his first Dublin SFC1 semi-final: they face Kilmacud Crokes in Parnell Park this Sunday (4.30).

The club's previous failure to fulfil self-evident potential predates the arrival of this former Longford, Offaly and Westmeath manager. Eight years have now passed since Ballymun's breakthrough senior triumph under Paul Curran. Twice since then they have fallen to St Vincent's at the final fence, in '13 and '17.

But after a 2018 quarter-final ambush (by St Jude's) and last year's round-robin elimination (by Na Fianna), Ballymun are back at the business end of the Dublin championship.

Unfettered access to his county contingent has been "huge", according to Hackett.

"It's the first time in my tenure here that you've had a full team to train with and pick from at all stages," he says.

"Look at it compared to this time last year. Ten days after the biggest event in GAA history, the five-in-a-row, you're asking six players to come in and try and give of their best in the championship. It's impossible - I don't care who you are. And this year the difference is that they're there all the time. They're fresh, they're part of the team, they're driving the standards."

Over the years, Hackett surmises, "Dublin have benefitted hugely from Ballymun's contribution really, and Ballymun probably haven't got that benefit."

Touching on his athletics background, he expands: "Look at any big event - I mean, look at people when they come back after the Olympics. They're completely flat.

"After you win an All-Ireland it's very, very hard - and I understand that.

"So this year has been a huge change and, look it, you probably see a lot of calls now for a split-season and giving the club a chance. And I think there have been some fantastic club games."

But what happens beyond this unprecedented year of Covid? Even if a split-season becomes the new normal, it will surely revert to inter-county first and then club?

"I don't know how it would work," Hackett admits, but then adds: "They've just shown here, you can run a championship off in most counties in two months. Very easily done."

For all the inter-county weapons in his arsenal, the Monaghan native is keen to stress that Kickhams remain a club forever punching above their weight. A club whose membership numbers pale by comparison to their three fellow semi-finalists from the southside - Kilmacud, Ballyboden St Enda's and St Jude's.

"I get calls from people from all over the country, and the perception of Ballymun is they're a really big club," he says.

"How many members have Ballymun? Three hundred. Phenomenal. I mean, it's phenomenal."

The recent documentary aired on RTÉ - Passing It On: Ballymun Kickhams - gave the rest of Ireland an insight into the "work that went into Ballymun, and where they've come from, and that was great," Hackett enthuses.

"Go back to Barney (Rock), Dermot Deasy, Gerry Hargan, right through to Ian Robertson, Paddy Christie … look at what the club have produced. Has any club matched that in the last 20 or 30 years? I don't think so.

"I mean, you'd have to go back to the '70s when Vincent's were really at it to see a club that has given so much to Dublin - from such a small base.

"I used the word phenomenal and I think it is phenomenal, what they've achieved. And the documentary showed where they came from, and it also showed what a couple of key people can do.

"People like Paddy (Christie), when you put your mind to something and really work hard at it - and stay at it.

"It's a young club, it's only 50 years old - and what they've done in 50 years, I think, is incredible."