Leinster legends live the dream

An hour and a half after the final whistle last Sunday, Kieran Lucas was still on the field in Nowlan Park.

Leinster legends live the dream

Still trying to shake hands. Still trying to congratulate his clubmates.

Mount Leinster Rangers’ shock win over Oulart-the Ballagh in the Leinster club SHC final was the GAA story of the weekend, but Lucas was embedded in the narrative from the start. Carlow club Rangers have been in existence only 25 years, after all.

“The parish was divided into three clubs,” says Lucas. “Ballymurphy had hurling and football and had reached a couple of county finals in the 70s but hadn’t won them.

“Borris were a hurling club only and had won a couple of junior hurling championships but hadn’t progressed to senior. Rathanna had a football team and the Borris lads used to play football with Rathanna, but by the late 80s, players were getting scarce. Everybody was playing together up to minor and after that they went off among the three clubs.”

A group of players who didn’t want to split up after minor drove the amalgamation agenda: they wanted to stay together and they wanted to achieve together, so in late 1987 there was a meeting about forming a new club. Mount Leinster Rangers played in Carlow in 1988.

“The three clubs were long established, and nobody wants to see a club die out, but there wasn’t that much opposition really,” says Lucas.

“There was a serious reality involved — which was that the three clubs weren’t going to make progress as things stood.”

A Galway man and a teacher in Borris VS, Lucas was installed as chairman. “We won the intermediate hurling and football championship in 1988, and a minor championship, and those successes showed that the right decision had been made.”

It was helped by some diplomatic choices. Take the name of the new club. “That was very deliberate. At the first couple of meetings a name for the new club was discussed, and if someone suggested Borris-Ballymurphy then of course someone would ask, ‘what about Rathanna?’

“The idea of Mount Leinster Rangers was to get away from the three clubs that had been there, but we were still representing the parish of Borris.

“The same with the colours. Rathanna were maroon, I think, Borris were blue and white and Ballymurphy wore green, so we switched totally and went for black and red for the jerseys. But there was enthusiasm there in 1988, that was the main thing. People were interested in driving the new club on. A new beginning.”

Soon afterwards, the new club acquired a ground and built dressing rooms, and in recent years they’ve dominated in Carlow.

“We’ve won six of the last eight hurling championships and the last three titles in a row,” says Denis Murphy, man of the match last Sunday in the Leinster final.

“We won the All-Ireland intermediate championship last year and the tough games we had winning that are certainly standing to us now. We were over the moon in Croke Park that day, with an All-Ireland title, but nothing stands still. You can’t rest on your laurels. As a team we were adamant we wanted to win more stuff.”

Last year Rangers lost to Kilcormac-Killoughey by four points. They took solace from the margin, and the fact their opponents made it to the All-Ireland final the following March.

“That encouraged us, but we’d have a lot of belief in the team anyway. We don’t have superstars, but we’re determined and there’s great unity there. We draw on that all the time and we stress how strong the panel is.”

They also have a shrewd manager in Kilkenny native Tom Mullally.

“Tommy demands the best from us all the time, and we try to bring that every night in training. We’re always trying to improve ourselves. And he loves giving us a bit of abuse the odd time, too... I couldn’t speak highly enough of him.”

Last Sunday, Murphy’s metronomic free-taking broke Oulart hearts. The corner-forward doesn’t dwell on his eight-point tally.

“As Tommy says, that’s my job. If you have a free within 60, 65 metres of the goal, it should be going over the bar. The boys are working hard enough to win the frees, so it’s just my job to finish that off. It’s not that big of a deal, but all credit to them for winning the frees in the first place.”

That unity of purpose is what Lucas and his colleagues had in mind quarter of a century ago.

“We’ve had great support from the community and nobody would think of starting a club up in some part of the parish,” says Lucas.

“Everyone’s focused on progressing on from where we are now. The three old clubs would mean nothing to the current players — there’s a great scattering of players from throughout the parish, actually, which is good because if one part of the parish dominated the selection they might wonder why they’re playing for Mount Leinster Rangers rather than their own area.

“It was a great achievement to win a Leinster intermediate championship, never mind a senior title, but we have a great bunch of players.

“In fairness, all the clubs in Carlow have rowed in behind us on our run through Leinster, and a good few of them came down to celebrate with us on Sunday night.”

The welcome in Borris suited the achievement, says Lucas: “We took them down the town on an open lorry and it was like the Pope arriving. Though he wouldn’t have got the same adulation the lads got.”

The headquarters for those celebrations was Joyce’s in Borris, though Denis Murphy, a non-drinker, was already thinking of his pupils in Enniscorthy Vocational College the following morning. “There’s a few Oulart boys in the school,” he said. “They might get some stick.”

If those Wexford kids are still stunned, they’re not alone.

“Even now I’m in absolute shock,” says Lucas. “We were saying all last week we were in there with a chance, but the thought in my head driving to Nowlan Park was ‘I hope the lads play well, we’re live on TV and I hope we’re not slaughtered’. I looked at the scoreboard with 58 minutes gone and we were three points up, I was thinking, ‘are we going to win this thing?’”

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