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Castleknock's remarkable journey to the top of Dublin club football

The story of how a club made it from Division 10 to a senior county final in just 18 years.

CASTLEKNOCK, A WEST-Dublin club only in its late-teens is not the most likely candidate for supremecy in the highly competitive Dublin senior football championship.

Ciaran Kilkenny takes photos with fans at the end of the game Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

And yet, remarkably, the club which finds itself nestled beside powerhouses St Brigid’s and St Oliver Plunkett’s is just one game away from lifting the biggest prize in Dublin club football.

How did they get here? As is often the case in Irish life, a meeting in a local bar was the starting point. Johnny Corcoran, Fergus Hamill, and John Conway agreed in Myos Bar in April 1998 that the influx of young families to the area required a local GAA club.

The once rural village in western Dublin experienced rapid population growth in the area with housing estates transforming the formerly green fields to a part of Dublin’s suburban fabric.

First, Corcoran, Hamill and Conway had to prove to the county board they wouldn’t be taking players from the catchment areas of the concerned neighbouring clubs.

Once an agreement was put in place, the members of the newly founded club were mobilized. Doors were knocked on and leaflets handed out to every household in the area.

Twenty three kids showed up to the first training session on a green in the middle of a housing estate dubbed Tír Na nÓg. Among the kids in attendance that day were current senior stalwarts Graham Hannigan, Shane Boland and future two-time All-Star winner Ciaran Kilkenny.

“That is where we all started,”says Boland. “We have all been there from the first day that the club ever started. First training session, that is how long we have been around.”

In a few short weeks there were 130 local youngsters regularly turning up to training.

The first time they entered an adult competition in 1998, Castleknock found themselves in Divison 10. From there, the ball started rolling.

Shane Boland Castleknock's Shane Boland at the Dublin SFC final media event. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Over the following 18 years, Castleknock moved up the ranks. Much of that was due to the groundwork with underage sides. For the likes of Kilkenny, Hannigan and Boland, success was a regular visitor at underage level.

Boland continues: “It is kind of a weird one because my age group – we are the 1993 age group – and basically ever since we were six or seven, or whenever the club was founded, we have always been Division One.

“[We] have always been there or thereabouts every single year so when it came to adult, we had a mentality that we should be there or thereabouts. And that has stood to us as we progressed through the levels.”

Tom Quinn and Rory Corcoran are another two who represented the Dubs at underage levels. In 2007 that group won the All-Ireland Feile na nOg Division 1 – the top competition at the U14 grade in the country.

“The core group of this adult team is basically from that team, there is a lot of us that would have played on that team and would have played a lot of football and hurling growing up.

“And we won the minor football as well. Brian Fenton’s Raheny beat us in the football Feíle as well.

“We were always there or thereabouts in both codes and when you have that winning mentality embedded in you, it kind of sticks to you as you move up the grades.”

Boland went on to play minor hurling for Dublin and won an U21 football All-Ireland with the Boys in Blue under Dessie Farrell in 2014.

Once those Castleknock youngsters started to make their mark at adult level, the club’s first team started to win trophies. They lifted the Dublin and Leinster JFC titles in 2012, and two years later were crowned Dublin IFC champions.

Paddy O'Dwyer and Ciaran Kilkenny Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Last year they won promotion from the AFL Division 2, when Kilkenny fisted a last-minute goal to secure a draw with Ballinteer St John’s.

“Ciarán would be one of my best mates and he’s one of those chaps; whatever he seems to pick up he seems to be good at,” continues Boland.

“It was one of those things that was very annoying when we were younger. We’d play table-tennis and all of a sudden he was unbelievable at table tennis, and when we played snooker he was unbelievable.

“He’s just one of those blokes who seems to have a knack for every sporting endeavour he does. When we were younger say 11 or 12, you are two points down and say ‘what will we do?’

“We would try and get the ball to Ciarán and more often than not he’d sort of produce this moment of magic out of nowhere. So I’m not overly surprised of what he’s achieved and I think there’s a bit more in the tank.”

With a new €1.1 million clubhouse on the horizon and a long-term lease signed on 24 acres of land, which includes two full-pitches, a juvenile pitch and an all-weather surface, the club’s future looks secure.

Now the small matter of taking on Giants St Vincent’s in the county final awaits them. Vincent’s, with their Dublin SFC 27 titles and three All-Irelands.

“We were actually joking about that last night at training, saying the likes of Mossy Quinn and Diarmuid Connolly have probably never even seen a Castleknock jersey before.

“We used to play them a little bit when we were underage and stuff like that but we have absolutely no experience of playing the likes of Diarmuid Connolly and Mossy Quinn and this unbelievable Vincent’s team that they’ve built over the last couple of years.”

Des Carlos, Mikey Galvin and Matthew Griffen celebrate after the game Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“It’s been hard to gauge what’s going to happen because we’ve never played them at all. We don’t really know what to expect on Saturday, all we can do is work hard and see where that takes us.”

The club suffered a hammer-blow in November 2012 when Kilkenny signed a contract with AFL club Hawthorn.

The prospect of the then 19-year-old ever lining out in a Castleknock jersey again appeared in jeopardy.

“I would like to come back at some stage but I do not know what the future holds for me.,” Kilkenny said at the time.

“Hopefully I will be back in six or eight years time and I will be able to put an All-Ireland medal in my back pocket, and I will be back in the off seasons to play with the club and give them a hand in any way I can.”

When Kilkenny announced his return home after spending just six weeks Down Under, he drafted a short statement with the help of an old teacher.

He signed off with the Irish proverb: “Ní glaise iad na cnoic i bhfad uainn i gcónaí!

It roughly translates as: “Distant hills are not always greener.”

The Footballer of the Year nominee is back home among friends, having led his club to their maiden senior county final.

The streets of Castleknock have never looked so green.

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Kevin O'Brien

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