Local pride and capital gain at stake

IT doesn’t get more local than this.

Even by the GAA’s standards.

The county of Dublin may cover an area of over 921 square kilometres but less than a mile separates the clubhouses of St Oliver Plunkett’s/Eoghan Ruadh and St Brigid’s and that rivalry will be transported to Parnell Park tomorrow for the county final.

Their grounds are separated not by rolling hills or green fields but a stretch of dual carriageway, but if there was a border keeping them apart it would be The Halfway House pub, roughly equidistant to both.

The reality, of course, is less linear.

Most of the Plunkett’s players spent their formative years under the roof of St Declan’s College in Cabra, but so too did half the Brigid’s squad. Barry Cahill, who went to primary and secondary school and then college with Plunkett’s Alan Brogan, was among them.

There’s just no escaping each other. These players haven’t just sat in the same classrooms; they buy their newspapers in the same shops, queue at the same traffic lights and take a pint in the same pubs.

“Our reserve goalkeeper Noel Peacock owns the Breffni Inn,” says Brigid’s manager Mark Byrne. “That would be the main pub for the Plunkett’s fellas. A lot of the lads would hang around together, especially the younger fellas. They always have.”

Neither club can boast much in the way of pedigree. For years, both were football backwaters in a part of the city that had yet to be swallowed by the spread of urbanisation. But that has changed in the last 20 years. The population explosion has been such that it has spawned the birth of another outfit in the nearby area, Castleknock GAA Club, which is probably the fastest growing unit in the GAA and one experiencing significant underage success.

Brigid’s and Plunkett’s are some further down that curve. The former won their first senior football title eight years ago and, though Plunkett’s still await their maiden victory, both have sniffed around the top table in recent years.

A glance at the rosters explains why.

It has been Plunkett’s good fortune to have the Brogan family in their midst as well as Ross McConnell while Brigid’s have their own county experience in Cahill, goalkeeper Shane Supple, Graham Norton, Sean Murray and Peadar Andrews.

Padding the script are ‘outsiders’ like Jason Sherlock, Meath’s Anthony Moyles and Laois’s John O’Loughlin, but the invasion of new faces that has been seen in some other Dublin areas hasn’t been repeated on the fringes of the Phoenix Park.

That’s a point worth labouring on.

It isn’t so long ago since the Dublin championship – and the influx of players from the country — was being blamed as a reason for the county side’s failure to transfer its strength in numbers into All-Ireland titles. But no-one is pointing any such fingers now.

Dublin has provided four of the last eight Leinster club champions, two of the last four All-Ireland winners and Sam Maguire is in the middle of a citywide tour of the game’s clubhouses after the defeat of Kerry last September.

Some change.

“The standard has always been good in Dublin,” Byrne argues. “Any team that came out of the Dublin championship always did well or nearly always did well and there was always players there that could do a job for the county team.

“The problem was that you were spoiled for choice. You could put out four or five teams of roughly the same standard and ability and they were always up there in the top four teams in the country without ever winning it.”

“Pat Gilroy has brought the thing on at club and county level. Barry Cahill has played seven or eight games for us this season and that never happened before. County players were like aliens coming back to their clubs before. That has galvanised clubs now.”

The suggestion that all boats are rising as one is confirmed by a roll of honour which shows that there will be a fifth different name etched onto the Clery Cup in just six years tomorrow. Either way, it is coming down the Navan Road.

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