Underdogs happy to move forward with ‘Donegal-esque’ approach

It was only earlier this month that Bernard Brogan was providing Jim McGuinness with a most back-handed sort of compliment on his departure as Donegal manager.

Underdogs happy to move forward  with ‘Donegal-esque’ approach

“I wouldn’t be the biggest fan of that style of football because I have to play against it, it’s very difficult.”

The irony of his words wouldn’t have been lost on those who’ve watched St Oliver Plunkett’s-Eoghan Ruadh of late.

Brogan’s club, after reaching their third ever Dublin senior final in seven years, have deployed a most defensive structure that has reaped them plenty of dividends.

Former manager Dermot Kelly has no issue in calling it “Donegal-esque”. Current boss Paul Clarke and the current group realised after leaking one too many scores that it was the way to go for them.

“If you were to speak to Bernard how we’re playing at the moment he would say it’s for the betterment of the team,” says Kelly. “The players have bought into it and Bernard and Alan more so than everybody.

“They have to work in the system and the system isn’t just about having 13 guys behind the ball. When we lose possession we look to get it back and that starts with the full-forward line.

“All the reliance isn’t on Bernard and Alan. It’s a team game and a team situation whereas in the past we were always looking to the guys to put in a performance to carry us over the line.

“When you have a strike-force like we have in the sense of Alan, Bernard and Nesty (former Dublin and Cavan footballer Gareth Smith) it suits that. If they perform you’ve every chance of winning a game.

“We didn’t use that system against Kilmacud but we could have easily lost that game because we conceded soft goals. We had to look at our stats and I take my hat off to the management for coming up with a system that has worked so far. To hold Ballymun to 10 points and St Judes to four was incredible. St Vincent’s should win it on paper but I’m quietly confident because I think our time has come.”

Kelly played for Plunketts from the age of 18 and finished up at 41. He has no problem in saying as a player he would never have dreamt of reaching a county senior final.

The Navan Road club may have had star forwards like Bernard Brogan Snr and Mick Galvin but their resources didn’t extend beyond seven or eight decent footballers.

“We were never capable of it. You had to believe and we were never good enough. It was always about survival in Division 1 football and for the most part we did a good job of that.”

In 2003, the club won an intermediate championship. From there, a cohort of young players were drafted into the senior squad, Kelly realising he had nothing to lose from changing what he regarded as “an old foggies” team.

“I had the advantage that I was a club man, I knew all the 16, 17 and 18-year-olds that we had coming through. It took us three years to get out of Division 2. We could have gone up earlier but it was a blessing that we didn’t.

“After two close shaves, we romped home and won it with three or four games to go. We did that building process without Alan and Bernard because they were away on county duty. We ended up in a situation where we had grown and developed a bunch of players who were quite useful.”

Going on to win a Division 1 title in 2008 having only been promoted back to the top flight, Plunketts picked up inter-county talent like Anthony Moyles, Jason Sherlock, Conor Evans and David Sweeney along the way.

“The experience they brought for the young lads was huge,” says Kelly. “This is probably the most homegrown side we’ve had in a final and the lads who came in encouraged them along the way. I don’t want to be disrespectful to the guys coming in but I always had the philosophy that you can come and play for us but we won’t be paying you. A lot of those guys are still involved with us in some way. David Sweeney is one of the selectors now. They’ve a love for the club.”

In the league final in January 2008, they beat this evening’s opponents St Vincent’s by 12 points. “I remember talking to Pat Gilroy and Mickey Whelan and they said ‘what the f*** is this? How did you do this?’” recalls Kelly. “We gave them an awful lot of information then to bring with them to win an All-Ireland and show them where they went wrong and where they had problems. We knew we were at the top level.”

Losing the county final later that year after a replay to Kilmacud Crokes was a crushing experience considering they should have won it. “In 2008, we were very, very unlucky. People say you make your own luck but it didn’t take a shine to us that time. We hit the crossbar in the last minute of the first match and then we went to a replay and decisions didn’t go our way and we lost but we felt we were the better team.”

Another final appearance came three years later. “In 2011, we didn’t perform against St Brigid’s on the day so this is, we hope, third time lucky and with the system we play we have every chance we could do it. We are playing totally different and alien to how we ever played but the results speak for themselves.”

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