Saturday 16 February 2019

Dunboyne's Lenihan brothers hoping for a weekend to remember

Donal Lenihan bids for Meath SFC glory with Dunboyne tomorrow. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
Donal Lenihan bids for Meath SFC glory with Dunboyne tomorrow. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

The Lenihan house in Dunboyne is in the midst of a sporting weekend less ordinary.

Tonight, Darragh Lenihan will look to earn his second cap for Martin O'Neill's Ireland team as they take on Denmark in Lansdowne Road.

And the following afternoon, they'll decamp to Páirc Tailteann in Navan to see if Darragh's brother, the Meath footballer Donal, can lead the local club to just a third Meath title.

Theirs has long been a ecumenical house when it came to sport. GAA and soccer featured heavily but Donal and Conor were plying their trade with Belvedere FC in Dublin before Darragh, the youngest, joined them. Both Conor and Donal made inroads in their soccer career, but Donal admits Darragh was always the stand-out.

Darragh Lenihan Donal is hoping to line out in the Aviva tonight. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Darragh Lenihan Donal is hoping to line out in the Aviva tonight. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

"He was always exceptional underage and playing three or four years ahead of himself. He was always the one to show the class!" Donal smiles.

Donal packed in soccer in his mid teens and returned to concentrate on GAA where he has established himself as a regular on the Meath team. Meanwhile, Darragh, who himself was part of Meath underage teams, signed for Blackburn Rovers in 2011 and overcame early injury to establish himself with the Championship side and in the process become Meath's first senior international.

"I would have went to nearly all his games at Belvedere growing up and you'd be comparing him to other lads. He stood out a lot in Dublin but it's a different kettle of fish when you go over there," Donal said.

"You need that bit of luck. Darragh was over there for the first two years and really struggled because he had a double stress fracture in his back and played only a handful of games. But Blackburn seen something in him and gave him an extra year to prove himself and he hasn't looked back since. Lads need a break. A lot of lads go over and they have the talent but they don't get the break so it is very difficult."

The busy schedule means they don't get to each other's games as often as they'd like. Darragh made his Ireland debut against the USA in June but Donal missed out as Meath were playing an in-house training game just a week away from their crunch qualifier clash with Tyrone. If the Ireland squad are given Sunday afternoon off, Darragh will head north on the M3 from their Castleknock Hotel base to watch his clubmates in action against Summerhill.

"If he gets the afternoon off he'll be straight up to the match, he'd be mad to see it. Soccer was always first but every summer when he's home he's saying, 'I'd love to get a couple of games with Dunboyne' but you're taking too much of a risk if you're training or playing. Soccer was always number one but he loves the GAA."

Sunday's final takes on extra significance for the Dunboyne club. The well-publicised attack on Seán Cox while he attended a Liverpool game shocked the club to its core. A court case relating to the incident is ongoing in England while the club prepare for their county final. Lenihan reckons the fact that Dunboyne are back in a decider is in down in no small way to the work Cox did at the club down through the years.

"We were on the way home from a challenge game with Meath at the time on the bus when we found out. It was a complete shock to the whole community and the wider community in Liverpool and Ireland. He's very heavily involved in the club and was chairman for quite a few years. He's a great man and us getting to the final this year is down to the work the likes of Seán did in the club through the years, putting things in place for us to improve."

Dunboyne have been knocking on the door for the last couple of years. Last year, they led eventual champions Simonstown by 11 points at one stage in their quarter-final only to be chinned on the line. If was a heartbreaking defeat but it served as a reminder that they weren't far off.

"It motivated lads more, it showed how close we were. The previous year we went to extra-time with them. They probably deserved it after extra-time and last year we were that far ahead at half-time I don't know if we took the foot off the gas but it gave lads a lot of motivation to say that we were that close and they went on to win it. I wouldn't say it played on our mind, we put it to bed but at the same time we knew it was there and maybe used it for motivation more than anything."

Irish Independent

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