OUT at Whitehall Colmcille, the cafe was buzzing. People having their lunch. And their coffees. Eoghan O’Donnell among them.
Inside in the clubhouse, there are many pictures on the wall. There’s an autographed Dublin jersey from the 1974 All-Ireland football final.
There’s framed articles of Tommy Drumm and Paddy Moran. Tommy lifted Sam in ’83. A year later, Centenary year, another Whitehall legend, Paul Clarke, captained the Dublin minor team to the All-Ireland title.
Anto Holly sits down. And shows a video on his phone. From the quarter-final day of the Dublin Senior Football Championship.
The Whitehall faithful marching down Collins Avenue. The kids waving their flags. So much joy in the September sunshine.
“We didn’t see any of that because we were inside in Parnell Park preparing for the game,” explains Anto, the Whitehall manager.
Colmcille’s lost to Na Fianna by a point.
“Not many people gave us a chance. But we prepared well. And in-house, we knew that we were ready.
“We had a meeting on the night before the game. I have a great management around me and we told the players to go out and express themselves.
“That’s the way I believe football should be played. Nowadays, some managers tend to be conservative. They lock up shop. But I feel it’s all about going out and enjoying it. Enjoying sport is the reason we play sport in the first place.”
The dressing room after the Na Fianna game “was like a morgue. It wasn’t a case of a moral victory.
“We realised we could have won the game. Yet still it was a great achievement getting to the quarter-final. Dublin football is so competitive. We have 13 dual players on the squad, so that just shows the effort the lads put in.”
He will never forget the scenes when the team returned to the club.
“We were overwhelmed. The welcome we got. The crowds. All the kids looking for the autographs of the players. It was special.”
Anto was once a Colmcille Cub himself. He went to school down the road at Scoil Chiaráin. He combined soccer for St Kevin’s Boys and GAA for Whitehall. He went to secondary school at St David’s.
“There were great coaches at St David’s. I learned so much from them. And they played a big factor in the job I do now as a GPO of the Dublin County Board. It’s a role I really enjoy.”
He won the 1999 Leinster Minor Football Championship title with the Dubs. Beating Wexford after a replay. Before losing to Down, following another replay, in the All-Ireland semi-final.
When he progressed to the Dublin U-21 side, one of his mentors was Brian Talty, who influenced him so much at St David’s.
He got the senior call after that, before immersing himself back in the club.
Some of his happiest days came in the Whitehall jersey.
“I was fortunate to have played with some superstars here.”
He recalls one-stand out match.
“I was only a teenager at the time. It was a Division 1 relegation game against St Vincent’s in Bohernabreena. There was a huge crowd at the game and, thankfully, we managed to win it.
“And, ironically enough, it was also a relegation game against Vincent’s last year in the championship that was the spur for this season’s campaign. Winning that game gave us the belief that we could compete against the big names.
“We want to build on this now. It’s all about creating the right culture at the club. Many of the senior players help out coaching the juveniles. The kids look up to them.
“And it will make them have ambitions of playing for the club in Parnell Park one day. It’s about making them feel part of a family because I think that’s what a club should be.”
The club’s new pitch has been one of the best blessings of all.
“It’s right in the heart of the community. The children can walk or cycle to it. And practise their skills during the week.
“The club is really buzzing at the moment. And we are in the middle of a locality that has six or seven clubs. All these clubs are doing well. And it’s a credit to them, and to the GAA for the structures that they have.
“It’s all about the grassroots. It’s not all about success. It’s about bringing the children through. Keeping them playing. It doesn’t matter what level that’s at.”
He has a busy week. With his GPO role and his club commitments.
“I’m out of the house three or four nights of the week.”
He thanks Fiona for her support, and understanding.
But she knows all about these things. Her brother is John Bridgeman, a Whitehall jewel for many years.
“He was so good this year helping to drive the young lads on. The average age of the squad is 23,” reveals Anto.
There are three children at home, who are all so proud of their Dad – Fionn, Annie and Fiadh.
Anto’s gratitude for the efforts of his own parents stretches the length of Collins Avenue.
And he’s soon back on that terrain, driving to a meeting in Parnell Park. Then there’s more coaching to be done in the evening. Before home for supper.
After another fulfilling day. Of helping others. The best wages of all.