Thursday 19 July 2018

O'Brien gets best out of Garden crop

Wicklow legend Kevin O’Brien: Photo: Sportsfile
Wicklow legend Kevin O’Brien: Photo: Sportsfile

Barry Lennon

Wicklow's minor footballers hope that by following the guiding light of their manager, and the county's only All Star, Kevin O'Brien, they can reach their first Leinster final in 21 years tomorrow.

If his side beat Kildare in the Sunday afternoon semi-final at Newbridge, it will also move them closer to ending a 44-year provincial title drought as the dry spell continues nationwide.

The Baltinglass clubman has recently overseen a purple patch for the "long-suffering" county with his side beating Westmeath, Meath and, notably, champions Dublin.

His charges' feat was underlined by the Garden County's inferior record, with just one provincial minor title to the Dubs' 33. And further still by the seniors' 23-point May defeat to Jim Gavin's men - which manager John Evans described as "a fly being killed by a sledge."

This backdrop can make it difficult for O'Brien to attract players for Wicklow.

"We haven't helped ourselves over the years to sell the Wicklow (football) product with the lack of success but if this little bit of minor progress helps in any way it's great," he says.

"No one has a magic wand, it's just a group of people that are committed and honest. Players, mentors and parents. That's what it is."

Built

O'Brien, who won the county's only All Ireland club SFC title in 1990, took over this side last year having been a selector under former Wicklow boss Mick O'Dwyer and a Baltinglass underage manager.

He has built up his side since, moving Arklow's Ben Fennell from outfield to goalkeeper and playing sharp-shooting Tinahely forwards Matthew Ging and Eoin D'Arcy.

O'Brien has enjoyed mentoring his charges since taking over but is regularly reminded of his side's youthfulness.

"They're all 16 and 17. Last week I was getting our full-back Sam Kearney a cake for his 16th birthday. We've another 16-year-old too, little Tom Moran. It's costing me a fortune in cake," he laughs.

O'Brien, born 90 yards from the Kildare border, is perhaps best-placed to keep level heads against the Lilywhites, as he did at half-time against Dublin.

"I was just thrilled for the lads. But I said at the break to the guys, 'There's no point being part of that great team that beat Dublin and losing the next match.'" he recalls.

"So they really kicked on in the second match (beating Meath). It'd be nice to go a step further."

Irish Independent

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