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'After the game it was mad scenes, it was fantastic' - a Leinster breakthrough

Éire Óg’s players are looking to emulate their club’s golden generation from the 90s.

An Éire Óg fan celebrates their Leinster semi-final win with manager Joe Murphy.
An Éire Óg fan celebrates their Leinster semi-final win with manager Joe Murphy.
Image: Tom O'Hanlon/INPHO

THEY WERE NOT breaking new ground for their club in reaching a Leinster final but Éire Óg’s success in Portlaoise last month still felt seismic.

The rich tradition built up by their successful crew in the 90s had set the bar that all other teams would be judged by in their pocket of Carlow football.

Éire Óg bossed the Leinster scene as they accumulated five title wins in seven seasons between 1993 and 1998. It was a show of remarkable consistency as they defeated Dublin sides three times in finals – including a three-game saga with Kilmacud Crokes – along with Ballyroan of Laois and Wicklow’s An Tóchar.

The current generation have been striving to emulate their predecessors. Since that provincial success 21 years ago, Éire Óg have picked up seven county crowns in Carlow but it has taken until this season for them to return to the final stage after their recent victory over Portlaoise.

For midfielder Sean Gannon it was a landmark win with his club.

“Coming in we were expecting to put it up to Portlaoise, but I suppose never getting to a final before with this generation of players you’d be kind of going, ‘Jesus, can we do it?’

“But once we got over the line it was a sense of relief more than anything. The tears of joy in people’s faces that I’ve known for 20-odd years and I’ve never seen them get emotional. After the game it was mad scenes, it was fantastic. 

“Whatever it is about the Leinster championship, in Éire Óg it means probably a little bit more because we have the tradition obviously. The older guys don’t talk about it, but it would be in our heads. In the way that it would be nice to get up to those heights if possible.”

sean-gannon Sean Gannon before Éire Óg's clash with Portlaoise.

Ballyboden St-Enda’s await for them in Sunday’s Leinster final, Gannon is enthused at the prospect of playing in a showpiece after growing up watching those games from the stands.

“In ’98 I was 10, I just remember going on the buses and the excitement of it. I probably didn’t really appreciate it at the time, I was young. My mother used to bring me, I just remember goals – they used to always score goals and the roar, it was different to the points.

“I didn’t really know what was going on I suppose but I remember travelling to Newbridge so often. You’d go down to Newbridge nearly every weekend, with replays and everything. I’ve fond memories of it, I was a bit young for a lot of them.

“What you wanted to do was win a Leinster, that was with your club. It’s mad and obviously winning one with Carlow would be great but there’s just that expectation in Éire Óg that we want to get back there, we’ve been trying to get back there for so long and it just hasn’t happened.

“Joe Murphy’s son Adam is on the panel, and his nephew Jordan. Turlough and Darragh O’Brien. I think that’s it. I’m probably forgetting one now. I think there’s four of them involved.”

It’s a remarkable transformation for Éire Óg after the wretched manner in which they exited Leinster last year. They travelled up to Longford, were handed an 18-point beating by Mullinalaghta and finished the game with 12 men.

“I’ve heard a lot about that Mullinalaghta game over the last few weeks, and they were better than us on the day,” admits Gannon.

“But everything really went wrong for us that day. Hands down we were beaten by a better side, fair enough. But it really went wrong. We started off so well and just couldn’t put it on the scoreboard. I think after 16 minutes they scored first point of the game, after us dominating. And then we had men sent off. Then it kind of unravelled very quickly for us.

“But we were probably bullied to an extent. Physically they were very good, very strong in the middle. We knew that we probably weren’t at that level last year, especially physically. So an awful lot of lads have been doing their own stuff.

“It’s six days a week we’re training now. Three days collectively, and you’re getting to the gym three times, which has been unheard of. It wasn’t going on. So we’ve bulked up and lads are bigger.”

reece-denieffe-and-ross-dunphy-celebrate-their-win-with-a-kiss Éire Óg's Reece Denieffe and Ross Dunphy celebrate that Leinster semi-final victory. Source: Tom O'Hanlon/INPHO

They’ll require that improved level of conditioning when they collide with a Ballyboden side that have cut an impressive dash through the Dublin and Leinster club landscape.

“I listened to that interview with Dessie [Dolan], and he couldn’t get over how powerful they were. I suppose it’s one thing that we pride in ourselves, that we’re a powerful, big outfit as well.

“They’re probably physically a couple of years ahead of us. So be it. That’s fine. We have other ways of getting around it. But it will be interesting. We played them earlier on in the year and we had a great old, midweek challenge game. It was a great battle. It was a draw in the end.”

Their manager Anthony Rainbow is a familiar face to Gannon.

“I was there one year with him. He came in under Luke Dempsey. The following year I was doing my Masters and I was due to come back (to the Carlow squad) and I injured my shoulder, so I had to get an operation and missed that year. He’d left, and Turlough (O’Brien) came in. So I spent one year with him, but again he wasn’t the main man.

“A very good coach. He was very player-centred. He got on with everyone. He was excellent. I’m sure he’ll be well drilled. I remember there was plenty of defence, tackling drills back in the day that we’d do, and they weren’t easy. So I’m sure Ballyboden will be in the same boat.”

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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