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just reward!

The loss may have occurred more than six weeks ago but Craig Dunleavy (pictured) still carries the disappointment of St Oliver Plunkett's/Eoghan Ruadh's Dublin Senior Football Championship Final defeat close to his heart.

His side may have made a welcome return to the county decider after a less than impressive 2013 campaign but that one-point defeat to St Vincent's on the October Bank Holiday Monday was uppermost in Dunleavy's mind as he collected a well deserved Dublin Bus/Herald Dubs Stars award last Friday afternoon.

Dunleavy's consistency was a feature of Plunketts' campaign with his ability to secure primary possession in the middle third a pivotal facet of his team's renaissance, especially given the absence for large parts of key midfielder Ross McConnell.


Losing by such a marrow margin in the final would probably add to Dunleavy's frustration but there were plenty of positives to derive from the campaign with their six Dubs Stars awards an accurate reflection of their collective efforts and contributions over the year.

"I suppose it is a bit of a silver lining after the year that we have had," said Dunleavy.

"We are obviously very disappointed after losing the county final but it is nice for some of us to get the recognition for the team's efforts and it is always nice to attend an awards event like this.

"We are all looking forward to next year and getting an acknowledgement like a Dubs Star award is a nice vote of confidence for all the lads," he added.

Certainly, the fresh approach offered by the new management team has given Plunkett's a stronger base from which to utilise their obvious attacking talents with Bernard Brogan, Gareth Smith and Conor Walsh all picking up Dubs Stars awards, not to mention how influential both Niall Walsh and Alan Brogan were over the autumn.

There were promising signs for the Navan Road club when they accounted for a talented Kilmacud Crokes in their high-quality first-round clash back in May and after defeating St Anne's in the second round, Plunkett's franked their championship ambitions when producing arguably the performance of the year when ending Ballymun Kickhams' pretensions at the quarter-final stage.

That display, more than any other, showcased the new-found defensive solidity of the beaten finalists with team manager Pat McDonagh and team coach Paul Clarke's new tactics working wonders to stifle a talented Ballymun forward line.

"The year has given us a fresh degree of confidence. We had a new management team in place this year that brought in their own ideas and it was positive to see their tactics come to fruition as we reached the county final.

"We have one eye on next year and will start our preparations in a couple of weeks so that's something to look forward to in trying to go one better than this year," said Dunleavy.

Given the depths that Plunkett's plummeted in 2013, suffering a surprise but deserved defeat to Ballinteer St John's in the first round, their ability to bounce back reflects well on both the mental fortitude of the panel and the influence that McDonagh and his back-room team have exerted on the team.

However, despite the sometimes disrespectful status attached to the Senior 'B' Championship, Plunkett's knuckled down to claim that particular title and Dunleavy feels that winning that title helped lay the foundations for a more positive 2014.

"In hindsight, losing to St John's wasn't the worst thing in the world to happen to us as we did a fair degree of soul searching after that and I think the lads brought that focus and mentality into this year's championship. We need to replicate that in the coming year and our ambition for next year is to once again make the county final but hopefully go one better," he added.

Of course, Dunleavy's form played a big part in Plunkett's year and he feels a clean bill of health was critical to his own and his team's improved fortunes.

"I was happy enough with my own form.

"It was good to come through a full campaign unscathed and injury-free and to stay fit and healthy throughout and I suppose that was the main thing.

"I was happy with how I played on a personal level but losing the final the way we did makes us more determined to come back next year," he concluded.