Ray Cosgrove is a busy man, though not as busy as he should be.
It’s almost two years since he took a phone call from Johnny Magee. They’d shared many a Dublin dressing-room so Cosgrove agreed to Magee’s request to lend a join his new coaching ticket with the Wicklow footballers even though he was doing something similar with Kilmacud Crokes.
More than two years on and he’s still getting a buzz on those Tuesday and Thursday evenings when he sits into his car in the capital and points it southwards, like thousands of other commuters, towards the Garden County.
And yet he cut a frustrated figure last week as he stood amid the splendour of the Pearse Museum in Rathfarnham for the province’s championship launch, looked up at the resplendent blue skies and wondered aloud as to why there are so many free pages in his football calendar right about now.
Kilmacud played their opening Dublin Championship fixture at the end of April and, if Jim Gavin’s side do what everyone thinks they will this summer, it will be October before the county’s senior competition resumes.
“That’s crazy,” he says, “scandalous at this time of year.”
Wicklow will at least sate his thirst for action today when they face Laois at O’Moore Park in a Leinster quarter-final, but lose that and another six weeks yawns in front of them before the qualifiers spin around. He just cannot fathom it.
“I was talking to Mick O’Dowd there and Meath aren’t out for another six weeks (five now) and I’m standing here and the sun is glaring into my eyes. The gaps are crazy… They should be playing every second week. It’s got to change.”
The GAA’s casual dismissal of the GPA’s suggested format changes earlier this year might have spawned a chorus of disapproval, but Cosgrove wasn’t one of those banging that drum. What did it offer, he says, only another two-games-and-you’re-out scenario for the weaker counties? No, he sees four, five games minimum as the way forward for the have-nots. Play more football when the ground is hard and enough of it to ward off the come hither advances from the States for young players.
Other attractions and obstacles are impossible to ward off. A dozen or more players from last year’s panel had fallen victim to Father Time, family and college commitments and injuries by the time the texts went out from the management with notice of the first get-together for 2016.
A flock of U21s migrated into the senior panel in their place and the results – three league wins compared to the one the season before – on the back of the buy-in from the squad in general have been encouraging for a county unfamiliar with any success beyond the realm of modest.
Hard to believe but it’s five years now since Mick O’Dwyer held court in the county. O’Dwyer never bought into the imperative to improve a team’s spring station, but Wicklow were treated to some summer days that captured the imagination.
A first championship win at Croke Park, over Kildare in 2008, was the highlight, and there were qualifier runs and bumper crowds in Aughrim besides, but Cosgrove doesn’t feel as if the current players or management have a whole lot to emulate.
“Fellas get carried away with what Micko did. Micko won a Tommy Murphy Cup. That’s it. No National League. Micko was there for a long time and, no disrespect, he probably had a much bigger squad of players to pick from than our crop.
“Times were different back then,” Cosgrove added. “He attracted a lot of influential people around the set-up, but that’s what comes with Mick O’Dwyer. The reality of the situation is that Wicklow are still down in Division Four.”
They face a Division Two side today. A tall order, just as it was eleven months ago when they pushed Meath, another second tier county, all the way to the wire in a quarter-final in Navan. Win it and they meet the Dubs three weeks later.
Cosgrove would hardly mind waiting around for that.
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