Cream of the crop to be celebrated
GAA Garden County Awards
Wicklow GAA will celebrate the cream of its 2018 crop this Saturday night when the Garden County Awards Night takes place in the Arklow Bay Hotel from 7pm.
The annual awards honours the men and women who starred on and off the field of play and after 11 months of action all across the county there were certainly lots of candidates for each gong.
As usual, Jimmy Dunne will be the man on the microphone, and he will deliver his well-researched monologues on each award winner as they make their way from their seats having been announced to the applause of the big crowd in the Bay in his own inimitable and entertaining way.
Once the deserving award winner reaches the presentation area they are then treated to a two-minute crash course in the life of a red carpet-trodding celebrity as a phalanx of photographers battle for prime position while video camera lenses are trained for all angles.
Throw in the always delicious dinner served up by the hard-working staff at the Arklow Bay Hotel, the rich conversation and the fun and frolicking on the dancefloor later on and you have all the ingredients of a superb night out.
But there is really only one group of people who the audience are there to see and to honour, and that's the award winners themselves.
There follows a brief description of each of the 2018 Garden County GAA award winners.
You only have to look at the O'Byrne Cup performances over the last few weeks to understand why Dean Healy was selected to receive the County Football award at this year's Garden County Awards Night.
The St Patrick's GAA Club stalwart has been outstanding for his county in the early games this season as he was all through 2018 in every game that he pulled the county shirt on for.
If you need a man to break a tackle (or three), call Dean Healy. If you need a man to make a mark, call Dean Healy. If you need a man to break a high ball, call Dean Healy. If you need a man to provide an uplifting score, yes, you guessed it, call Dean Healy.
The words 'beast', 'warrior', colossus', and 'leader' are used when trying to describe Dean Healy's exploits, and there's a number of valid reasons for that. Firstly, the St Pat's man always gives his all. You can't hide that or mistake that or ignore that. It's abundantly clear when a player doesn't give his all, but you're never left with that impression after watching Healy.
Secondly, a very important asset or characteristic for any player to have is bravery, and Healy has this in abundance.
Another St Pat's club man picking up a significant award, this time the dynamic and intelligent Stephen Duffy who pulled strings left, right and center as Casey O'Brien's men marched to the Senior title in superb fashion in 2018.
Duffy's ability to spray a pass to a colleague, his free-taking skills and his overall skill and creativity set his apart from the herd last season.
His eight points of St Pat's' total of 10 in the final replay against neighbours Rathnew shows how utterly crucial he was to their cause; his last score the spirit-breaking lead point that he swerved over off the outside of his left boot in heavy traffic 30 yards from goal at the Rednagh Hill end - a score that will not be forgotten for a long time in Wicklow town.
Now involved with the county squad although restricted by injury, John Evans was in no doubt as to the value of the Wicklow RFC star who played such a major role in the Towns Cup victory a few years ago as well.
'Unreal, it's unreal. Going down last year was very disheartening. I thought it was going to take a couple of years (to go back up) but just with the group of young lads coming through, and then getting Alan (Costello) and a couple of lads with him, we approached them to come a few years ago and all of a sudden, they came in a slap. Our committee works very hard. And the next few years we will be pushing on hard with more young lads coming through.'
These were the words of Wicklow's Intermediate Club Footballer of the Year award winner Stephen Dillon in the immediate aftermath of his side's hard-fought victory over Carnew in the IFC decider in Aughrim last year.
All through the campaign where Tinahely went unbeaten until their Leinster club defeat and subsequent league final loss to AGB, Stephen Dillon was an incredibly important lynchpin of the team.
Strong on the ball, abrasive, intelligent, Dillon felt the hurt of relegration in 2017 and together with a strong club committee, a shrewd management team and a willing and able band of warriors, he led them back to the top table of Wicklow football where it's likely they'll remain, and thrive, for the foreseeable future.
Junior 'A' Football
'The last couple of years stood to us, losing two finals, we learned from the losses and brought it in to today. Happy enough to get the win. No matter what way we win, we win. It was hard to get back into it. Especially after last year, two finals in a row. It's tough'.
Pure joy was how you might describe the mood of Kilcoole's Danny Kavanagh after the final whistle in Aughrim on a damp October evening when he had helped his side to a richly deserved and some might say overdue Junior 'A' football crown.
Besides the people of Valleymount there was hardly a soul in Wicklow GAA who felt anything other than happiness for the men of Kilcoole as they finally put an end to a long wait and a heartbreaking few years where they came up short in several Junior 'A' football finals.
Kavanagh is a serious talent at this level and hopefully he will light up Intermediate level in the coming season with his attacking prowess and sweet striking of a ball.
Junior 'B' Football
Every team needs a strong foundation, something on which to build a championship dream, and Hollywood had the reliable Stephen Burke to step up to the plate and help guide them to a Philip Doyle Junior 'B' Championship crown.
With challenging games against top Junior 'B' squads such as Enniskerry in the semi-final and Dunlavin and AGB before that, it's vital that you have a trustworthy, clever and capable full-back and in Burke, Hollywood had a real ace up their sleeve.
Experience counts for so much at Junior level, and Burke has any amount of it. Dunlavin's 1-7 in the quarter-final and Avoca's 1-4 in the final were not accidentally low tallies. They came about because of a dogged defence marshalled by the brilliant Burke who was an excellent choice for the Junior 'B' Footballer of the Year award for 2018.
Junior 'C' Football
Well, he's nearly done it all, he's got the haircut, he's worn the t-shirt, he's toiled in the trenches and he's lost blood, sweat and tears for his beloved Tinahely jersey and it is a fitting end to what was a wonderful championship campaign for David Dillon that he is to be presented with the Junior 'C' Footballer of the Year award this Saturday night.
It was classic David Dillon that it was his shovel-like hands that reached up to pluck that ball from sky as Carnew paid siege on the Tinahely goal at the end of the county final in Aughrim. Who better to take it down, like he has taken a hail storm of high balls in the past, than David Dillon, a man who owes nothing to club nor county, and who, hopefully, has plenty more to give.
Club and county, this man is very much a rising star even though you'd be forgiven for thinking that he's been around for years.
There's a sense of comfort and safety in knowing that Mark Jackson is in goals for Wicklow and it may well be a similar sensation for Baltinglass GAA Club supporters from here on in after his excellent under-20 football championship campaign that ended with his lifting the cup in Aughrim after defeating AGB in the decider.
Éire Óg Greystones' magical victory over Baltinglass in the Minor football final of 2018 in Pearse's Park in Arklow was no flash in the pan but instead the result of huge work at underage in the north Wicklow club and this year's Minor Footballer of the Year award winner, Luke Dorgan, is the perfect example of the value of such efforts by any club.
Dorgan grabbed two goals in that stunningly exciting Minor final in Pearse's Park when the Greystones men looked in major trouble until they attacked, and Dorgan fired home a goal to help drive them on.
A super season for the talented Greystones footballer sees him collect this award on Saturday night and here's to many more super seasons in the year ahead.
Seamus Murphy realised the importance of Warren Kavanagh to his Wicklow team and Warren Kavanagh repaid that knowledge with a season of reliability and effort that the Glenealy man delivers unprompted in club or county jersey.
Superb spatial awareness, deft hurling skills, absolute bravery and pure doggedness are the traits that lift Kavanagh above the average hurler at this level and the Glenealy man is always a pleasure to watch on the hurling field.
The dual star collected a wonderful double of Senior crowns at club level in 2017 and was only minutes away from repeating that feat in 2018.
He is a man who will hopefully wear the county jersey for many years to come.
Having an excellent goalkeeper gives any team a massive boost in any game. It gives defenders a certain confidence, it makes attackers consider taking a point and it provides a very helpful platform for a team to go on and scale new heights.
Glenealy's Cian Staunton is an excellent goalkeeper, and the number one jersey in that club has been worn by many a legend so it would not be a role without pressure. Staunton takes this pressure and turns it into man of the match performances, like that in the county final this year against Carnew.
Pushing hard now for a starting place in the county team, Staunton is a cert to torment attackers for many years to come.
Has there ever been a sweeter hurler to look at in the county than Avondale's Ray Nolan?
His speed of thought on the ball, his subtlety, his striking, his accuracy, his intelligence, his sublime skill make him a pure pleasure to watch in action.
Then you add in his goodness as a person, his undeniable soundness, his pleasant demeanor, his willingness to have a chat and the craic and what you have is a fine person mixed in with a wonderful hurler.
His performance in the county final last season and his performances throughout the season are why he's picking up this award on Saturday night. His service to hurling and his genuine nature as a person is why he'll always be a legend in this county.
His performance in the county final in Newcastle against Bray Emmets was a wonderful reflection on his skill set and his ability as a hurler.
Andrew Kavanagh can dominate a game and he helped Barndarrig to that mighty championship victory that breathes a soft but incredibly vital sense of hope into the suffering body of Junior hurling in Wicklow.
Currently working his way back from injury, expect to see the Barndarrig man on the county squad in the very near future.
Strong, capable, skilful, full of passion and possessing that competitive edge that sets a hurler apart from the rest, Tomacork's Eoin Kavanagh is a fully deserving winner of the Minor Hurler of the Year award for 2018.
The centre back shone for his team in the county final and indeed for the whole championship and league at under-17 level.
Kavanagh is superb at reading the game and getting across or back to cut out the danger of an attack and he is adept at launching his side on attack and dropping over a few bombs between the sticks himself.
A marvellous hurler and seeing a talent like this emerging gives hurling fans hope for the future.
County Board meetings can be strange events at the best of times but one man who is always likleely to pose a relevant question is AGB's John Murphy.
AS well as his club delegate responsibilities, Murphy's efforts for his club have earned his this award and it is a fully deserved one for the popular John.
Shillelagh might have slipped away in recent years due to changes in society and dropping population numbers but rest assured they will be back at the top table of Wicklow football in the not too distant future thanks to the work of Paul Behan and his associates as they work tirelessly with the juvenile section of their club to turn things around and create a bright future.
Blessington's Kim Connors enjoyed a superb year for club and county last season and is a richly deserving award winner at Saturday night's Garden County awards.
The Wicklow netminder was a pivotal part of Mick O'Rourke's county team as they secured promotion from Division 4 and contested the Leinster Intermediate football final against Laois.
A real talent between the sticks, Connors has plenty more to offer club and county as 2019 swings into action.
Knockananna secure a three-in-a-row of Senior camogie crowns last year by beating old enemies Donard-the glen in the decider in Baltinglass.
Their campaign wasn't as simple as they would have liked and they were forced to come through some very tough games in the process.
It's players like Jessie Byrne that come to the fore when the pressure is on and it's down to warriors like her that Knockananna enjoyed thjeir marvellous success in 2018.
A fierce competitor who always gives her all on the field of battle, Byrne is a fantastic role model for any young camogie players in the county who might one day imagine themselves winning a Senior title.
A man who could easily be known as Mr. Tinahely, Pat Doyle has given a lifetime of service to Tinahely GAA Club and for that reason he is being honoured with a Lifetime Achievement award on Saturday night.
Pat has served in almost every role on the club committee, including chairman, secretary and many more.
Described by one local as a 'vital cog' in the Tinahely GAA Club, Pat Doyle's legacy will live on for generations to come.
You think Stratford-Grangecon and you think Jim Bollard, simple as that.
Another man who has given decades of service and loyalty to the proud club in the west. He's shared their highes, felt their lows, lended a shoulder to the wheel in times of need and always pushed on when times were good.
A man of infinite respect and class, a more worthy recipient you'd be hard to find.