Wednesday 21 August 2019

Rathnew’s remarkable Vincent’s win a reminder that Dublin clubs are not invincible in Leinster

Talking point

Leighton Glynn. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Leighton Glynn. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Often a reputation for someone or somewhere can soar far higher than is merited. Get a name for being an early riser and you have the luxury of lying in bed all day.

Aughrim is one of those places. Somehow it has developed a mystique about it in Gaelic football as if it is some far-flung place beyond the Iron Curtain where English soccer teams routinely imploded on European nights.

Aughrim's reputation has its source in a few things, the famous 'battle' with then league champions Laois in 1986 when not one of the visitors' six starting forwards finished the game (three were sent off, two were carried off and one was substituted) being an obvious starting point.

One of the local newspapers in Laois subsequently suggested that their team had been "provoked, barracked and finally beaten in the simmering cauldron of Aughrim".

A few unsavoury local incidents have helped to embellish that fearsome reputation in the meantime while that trilogy of qualifier wins over Ulster opponents Fermanagh, Down and Cavan in 2009, under Mick O'Dwyer's stewardship, gave some added and more recent ballast to the idea that Aughrim is a fortress for Wicklow and Wicklow teams.

But such results have been largely an exception rather than the rule. The idea that urbanites lose their way in that pocket of south Wicklow has been misleading.

Pat Gilroy. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Pat Gilroy. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Last year the Louth champions Sean O'Mahonys came away with a one-point win, a year earlier St Loman's of Mullingar had seven points in hand from their visit to play Rathnew, Moorefield ran up 17 points to Rathnew's 2-7 in 2014, while Portlaoise hammered 2012 Wicklow champions St Patrick's by 20 points there.

Wicklow's recurring Division Four status would suggest that inter-county results there can be just as indifferent while home championship wins in this decade are few and far between.

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Last Sunday's shock defeat for St Vincent's, the first time they have lost a Leinster match since 1981, will stoke the Aughrim myth again.

But what Sunday will do more of is underline how club football, especially in those months, can be the great leveller.

Remember, it's only seven years since the champions of Antrim (St Gall's) and Clare (Kilmurry-Ibrickane) met in an All-Ireland final.

Just when Dublin club football's grip on the province looked every bit as overpowering as the county's, a result like this stops and makes everyone sit up and think.

When colleague Martin Breheny produced his end-of-year ratings last December Wicklow were a carefully-considered 29th in the order of merit.

How then does a team from a county ranked so low take down the champions from the undisputed No 1 county?

Wicklow has deferred to its neighbours to the north in more than just subjective rankings.

When they were looking for strategic guidance during the summer it was to Pat Gilroy, pillar figure of St Vincent's and Dublin football, they turned to.

When current Rathnew manager Harry Murphy sought counsel when he took over managing Wicklow in late 2011, it was to Mickey Whelan he turned to.

Murphy ventured to suggest yesterday that this latest result was even better than their 2001 Leinster final win over Na Fianna a couple of days short of Christmas because Dublin's dominance then was nothing like what it is now.

In many ways it is because St Vincent's had gone five provincial campaigns without a defeat before Sunday.

Rathnew are a team heavily weighted with experience. Leighton Glynn, Stephen Byrne and Damien Byrne were on the Leinster club championship-winning team 16 years ago, James Stafford, Paddy Dignam and Nicky Mernagh were on the bench, an incredible record of service.

On Saturday Mernagh, one of their better players in this campaign, was hospitalised with appendicitis ruling him out and while Vincent's had their own absentees the depth of their squad should have been sufficient to weather any storm in those parts.

But two trips to Dublin championship matches in recent weeks convinced Murphy that they were beatable with the right approach, pushing up on their kick-outs, and pushing up on centre-back Ger Brennan in particular, in a way that he felt Ballymun didn't.

What Rathnew's victory does suggest is that nothing stays the same forever. It can't.

Every team runs its course to the point where no replenishment can avoid the inevitable, even for a short period of time.

All those 'institutionalised' clubs and counties in Leinster who are beaten before they go out against Dublin opposition these days should take note.

"No point in playing Vincent's if you don't believe you are going to beat them," Murphy suggested.

"Wicklow football is not as bad as perceived. The championship in Wicklow is very competitive. Hopefully, the county can start to believe in themselves under John Evans' leadership."

It's not a turning point, nothing of the sort, because Dublin and its clubs will always be strong. But it does offer a real lifeline to a lost province.

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