Wednesday 17 January 2018

The best of neighbours

Friendships will be put to one side in the search for a Dublin crown, writes Dermot Crowe

THREE years have passed since St Oliver Plunkett Eoghan Ruadh left Parnell Park on a Bank Holiday Monday night with their heads bowed, deprived of a first county title by two fatal blows from Kilmacud Crokes. Two strikes were all it took, both goals and without ornamentation; route-one raids, the first a disputed award and the second involving protests of a square ball infringement.

The final lit up what had been a prosaic club championship, going to a second match before Crokes managed to deny Plunketts a place in the history books. The drawn game had been a captivating spectacle. Frequently replays disappoint but this one did not. Plunketts looked poised to win, inspired by Bernard Brogan, until Crokes engineered a crude but effective escape.

The goals came in the final eight minutes and proved an exceedingly harsh rebuke to the losing team who had played most of the football after half-time. Brogan stamped his exciting talents all over the match with a virtuoso display of menacing forward play. Policed by Dublin defender Paul Griffin, Brogan could not be subdued. He scored six points in the second half, four from play, to add to four in the first, three of those from play.

"It was very difficult but sport is cruel," admits the Plunketts vice-chairman Pat Bugler. "Unfortunately, it wasn't our time. You move on and you bounce back, the positive thing is we stuck at it; we have the core of the same team. We have shown huge commitment, the preparation is as close to professional as you can get."

While Bugler isn't terribly keen to dwell on the past, the experience has been part of the team's schooling and psychological construction. Leading by three points with eight minutes left, they were undone when a high punt added to by the fist of Johnny Magee was deemed to have crossed the line. The effort appeared to have been saved off the goalkeeper's chest, but an umpire raised the green flag. Two minutes after, Plunketts conceded another. Again, a dropping ball caused havoc and Mark Davoren finished.

The time since has been devoted to getting back to a final and ensuring they complete the job. Today they get that opportunity against their neighbours, St Brigid's, who have one senior title win from 2003 and were defeated finalists 12 months ago.

Plunketts are a paradox in that their valid claims to being a novel act are counterbalanced by the presence of the last two recipients of Footballer of the Year, Alan and Bernard Brogan. To those illustrious names you can add the former Dublin player Jason Sherlock, Gareth 'Nesty' Smith, the former Fermanagh defender Shane Lyons,

Offaly man Conor Evans, Ross McConnell as well as Meath's Anthony Moyles.

Managing the team is former Dublin player Mick Galvin whose career began with the Navan Road club before he moved to Na Fianna and won a number of county championships.

Galvin later managed Na Fianna but returned to his old stomping ground in the wake of the 2008 county final defeat. The trek since then has been frustrating and involved a couple of costly slippages. In 2009, St Judes put them out of the championship in a surprise result and last year they were defeated in the worst place of all -- the semi-finals -- by St Brigid's. That setback gives today's match an added edge.

"We were beaten by Brigid's last year but I don't believe we prepared any less," says Bugler. "We were as focused then as we are now, you learn from your mistakes and you move on. You have to keep the hunger and ambition. The lads have demonstrated that. You have to take these things (setbacks) on the chin. You either dust yourself down and continue going or else you give up."

In the 1970s, the Brogan brothers, Bernard and Jim, made the Dublin team while playing for Plunketts, despite operating then in junior ranks. Both Brogans are now team selectors. Several players from both sides meeting in today's final, including the Brogans and Barry Cahill, attended the same school -- St Declan's in Cabra -- but neither club has been a heavy hitter long enough to have created a deep-seated rivalry. Still, there is a razor's edge to it after last year's emphatic 1-9 to 0-5 win by Brigid's.

Naturally, much of St Brigid's fixation will be on curtailing Bernard Brogan. Last year they did an excellent job in defusing Brogan thanks to the close attentions of Peadar Andrews. Sherlock, marked by Graham Norton, and Smith, well contained by Sean Murray, are others who will be keen to redeem themselves after being swamped by exceptional Brigid's defending.

Bernard Brogan was not generally showing the same form then as has been evident this year however. In the last three championship matches, he has scored 2-20 and Andrews is out with a knee injury. Another setback for Brigid's has been the loss of Declan Lally, estranged from the panel after completing his season's work with Dublin in September. He had a disagreement with management and has not returned for recent matches.

Taming Brogan -- his brother Alan looks set to start, having come on in the semi-final win over Lucan Sarsfields -- could become the unenviable task of Murray who broke onto the Dublin senior panel after winning an All-Ireland under 21 title. Murray had a mixed experience in the semi-finals but finished strong and was one of his side's better performers in extra-time.

"We have been operating at senior level for a number of years now," says Bugler. "Many years ago when Jimmy and Bernard (Brogan) were playing we won an intermediate championship. Dermot Kelly, a local man, took over around 2006, when we were in the relegation zone of Division 2. Dermot put in a significant amount of work; we won Division 2 and got into Division 1 and won that and qualified for our first county final in 2008."

Then Galvin returned. "I suppose life's path and personal circumstances take people different routes," says Bugler. "Mick has been a loyal servant to Plunketts and will always have spent more time with Plunketts than anywhere else. He was born and bred in the Navan Road parish and both his parents are still living in the parish and are an integral part of the community. If memory serves, Plunketts were relegated, I think we had gone down to Division 3, and the challenge for him personally with the injuries he had would have made it quite difficult for him to stay. The opportunity presented itself with Na Fianna. To be fair to Mick, he proved his ability with Na Fianna, he still had something to offer."

But they've had to be patient. "We were beaten by Judes the year before last. Probably unexpected at the time. But the important thing from a Plunketts perspective is these things haven't eaten away at us. They can unite a team and create a hunger.

"In 2008, the guys were deflated but they had given their all. It didn't make us a lesser team, it didn't deflate our confidence; everyone came back (to the club) on the night and were proud that they had given it their all."

Given their full-back line frailties in 2008, the arrival of Fermanagh's Shane Lyons has been welcome.

"He was living in the locality and was aware of Plunketts," says Bugler. "And he had an opportunity to play football in Dublin. He felt Plunketts had something to offer him. I think he knew Alan and Bernard and Ross prior to it and the fit was good."

Jim Brogan's son Philip has taken over in goal this season in a further change as Plunketts look to correct some of the errors that undermined them in the past. They are favourites to win their first title but they, of all teams, have learned the lesson of not taking anything for granted.

Here's a good omen though: the last two times the county final was contested with Dublin as reigning All-Ireland champions, a club made history by winning it for the first time.

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