Clarke says Brigid’s are rewarded for huge effort

PADDY CLARKE was in the air, flying to Australia as part of the Irish management for the 2001 International Rules Series, when Brigid’s lost heavily in the Dublin county football final to a Na Fianna side captained by Kieran McGeeney.

Founded in 1932, it was only their second time qualifying for the final and they had lost to the same opposition controversially in their inaugural appearance in 1999. Now, they are only one game away from contesting the AIB Leinster club final.

Clarke, the former Louth manager, acknowledges that opponents Clonguish from Longford not only share the same dream but recognise that it is within their reach. So too with the other semi-finalists, Arles/Kilcruise and Round Towers with whom the great Glenn Ryan performs as valuable a role at centre-back as he has done for Kildare over the last decade and longer.

St. Brigid's caused something of a shock by winning the Dublin title just a few weeks ago, principally because they defeated Kilmacud-Crokes, former All-Ireland champions under the guidance of Tommy Lyons. Clarke readily admits that his team wasn't expected to take the title.

"I think that was why we did win. Kilmacud were 7/4 on and we were 6/4 against,'' he points out. "They thought they were 'there.' They were sluggish on the back heel, were waiting for it to happen, whereas we put in a huge effort. We gave an exhibition in the first half, getting eight points in the last ten minutes. And while they came back at us, we finished strongly again.''

He agreed to take over the team after an approach from several club members, including Declan Darcy. And, at his request, they agreed to appoint just one other selector. "The idea of having two or three with you and ganging up on you wasn't on for me. Two is the ideal number. They said to me that they believed they had the right man for me."

The 'man' turned out to be former Meath star Gerry McEntee. As the season developed, Collins concentrated on the coaching and fitness. McEntee's brief was to oversee the practice matches.

The development of the team was boosted by the decision of Fermanagh star Rory Gallagher to join the team, with Clarke describing him as 'a great acquisition.' He is now the club's full-time coaching development officer and is joined in the team by his brother Raymie. The son of former President Peter Quinn also played for them for a while before going to Australia and cousin Sean, unfortunate with injuries early on, is also a member of the squad.

Clarke is naturally delighted with the progress to date, agreeing that all four teams remaining in the competition have a realistic chance of winning it out.

"Yes, there's a big incentive there for us, but the other teams will be looking at it the way . It has opened up big-time, knowing that if we reach the final we won't be playing the like of Rathnew, Na Fianna, or O'Hanrahans. We feel we would have a great chance if we came through, but I know that's how the teams on the other side will be feeling too.''

Last Sunday, in Dr Cullen Park, Arles/Kilcruise caused a major upset when they dismissed home side O'Hanrahans, who won the provincial title two years ago and pushed Nemo Rangers hard in the All-Ireland semi-final. Members of the Round Towers squad were present at the game, knowing the potential of the new Laois champions but not really expecting them to be their rivals next Sunday. At the same time, Glen Ryan wasn't too surprised by the outcome.

"We actually played them a couple of times this year in challenge games, so we know a good deal about them," he commented. "We know they are going to be very hard to beat. I was surprised by the fact that they were able to play so well after having won the county final the day before."

The Kildare champions contested one semi-final previously, back in 1996, when they lost to Eire Óg from Carlow. Two years later, when they won the county title (in the year that Kildare contested the All-Ireland final), the championship ran too late for them to participate in the provincial competition.

"We feel we have a good chance, but the teams remaining are all great teams in their own right. Because they are so evenly matched, a lot will come down to a bit of luck on the day!''

At A special meeting of the Offaly GAA County Board in Tullamore last night, Matt Connor (Walsh Island) and Mark Plunkett (Tullamore) were appointed as senior football selectors.

In hurling, Ger Fogarty (St Rynagh's) and Jim Troy (Lusna) join manager Mike McNamara as selectors.

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