The moment that 11 Pike Rovers players emerge onto the Aviva Stadium turf this afternoon will mark a first in the careers of each and every one of them.
However, the community from their Southill base in Limerick will be in the stands in force to remind the Aviva debutants of the local ties that are the beating heart of this club.
Up in the stands club president Eddie O’Donovan Snr will watch his three grandsons, Wayne and Eddie O’Donovan and Shane Walsh, head out onto the field accompanied by his great-grandchild, who will be one of the flag-bearers.
“There’ll be four of them on the pitch, three grandchildren and a great-grandchild, and we’ll be doing well if we can keep him off it,” quips Pike Rovers chairman Declan Waters.
“All his life their grandfather was involved with the club. He’s living nearby in Kennedy Park and it’ll be a great day in the Aviva.”
Waters has his own family tradition with the club. His first cousin, Joe, is one of Pike’s Ireland-capped alumni, his grandfather also acted as chairman and his father refounded the club after the war, just before their first Junior Cup final appearance.
It took them until 2011 to return to the final, when they finally captured the famous trophy at Turner’s Cross.
Those far-reaching family roots mirror the present day community involvement that the club is fostering.
In Southill, an area which has had its publicised social issues, the success story of Pike Rovers is something the community can all get behind.
“Every person that lives in that area has been very good to us and there isn’t one thing you could say wrong about them,” says Waters.
Manager Mick Shiel, a Dublin native who first became involved in the Limerick football scene when part of Pat Scully’s backroom team at Limerick FC, also highlights the importance of sport in the locality.
“The regeneration helped the club to build the AstroTurf, which was opened last summer, because sport helps. That’s what they’ve tried to do in Limerick, to get the kids into these football clubs,” says Shiel, who is in his second term as manager.
“The last time I was at the club (2013/14), they were only restarting the schoolboy section and now it’s flying. They’ve teams right up to 16 and 17. It’s important in that community to keep those sporting clubs going and have some place for the kids to go in the evenings, rather than hanging around the streets.”
As for the matter of today’s final, a meeting between two Celtic-inspired clubs both nicknamed ‘The Hoops’, Pike will be underdogs against a Sheriff YC side appearing in their fourth final in five years.
Given that the Junior Cup begins with 660 teams and it takes 10 wins to lift the cup, the Dublin club’s achievement demands respect. Three Pike players remain from their 2011 starting team, but the consistency of Sheil’s young side has been remarkable. He buttressed the Limerick core with four Clare recruits and this year they’ve only conceded two goals in nine games.
“The atmosphere will be unbelievable. God help us if we win it, we won’t get home until Wednesday,” says Waters, who is anticipating five or six bus-loads of support.
And will Eddie O’Donovan Snr be making it five O’Donovans on the field if there’s cause for celebration? “Without a shadow of a doubt, if we can get him out of the VIP area!”
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