Wintry Sundays while the sun’s still shining

I only saw Brian Mullins playing once. It will probably come as a surprise to many that the once blonde colossus was seen at all. It just happened to be my second year going to matches and, as far as can be recalled, it was Brian’s final match.

Tiernach and Robbie Gilbert have been family friends for decades, back then, they were integral parts of the St Brigid’s Blanchardstown team which reached the Final of the Dublin Intermediate Football Championship.

The then Gerry McEntee trained outfit faced St Vincent’s second team. Now, under normal circumstances, one would expect a club’s first team to overcome a second string.

Not every reserve squadron has an iconic man-mountain like Brian Mullins among their ranks. On that particular day, it was undoubtedly his influence – for as long as he was on the field – which ensured a unique success for the Marino sporting institution.

Brian Mullins personified the aura which envelopes the St Vincent’s club

At the time, all that was known about Mullins or his club was that both were supremely dominant forces for elongated periods of time. To that end, it would be only with age, experience and research on my part that a full understanding of the irresistible force the St Vincent’s club have been in Dublin football and much further afield for several generations. And the fact that the gargantuan midfielder was the fulcrum of most of it, on and off the field.

To peruse a list of some of those who have donned the famed white jersey with the blue hoop is to leaf through part of the history of the GAA. In football alone, you will see stellar names like Ferguson, Heffernan, Mullins, Hanahoe, Ryder, O’Driscoll, Keaveney, Gilroy, Brennan and Connolly. Each one a bookmark on another glory-laden chapter for the Pairc Naomh Uinsionn residents and/or Dublin.

Tony Hanahoe about to gather possession as ‘The Horse’ Kennelly closes in

Consider that they very nearly won the Dublin Senior Football Championship for 14 consecutive seasons, twice being thwarted on the cusp of seven titles on the spin. Which leads on nicely to the reason behind what you are reading. Now read on…

Yes, they were different times, and true also that in Heffo and Snitchy’s time – and even more so during the 70s – Vincent’s had a playing pool in Gaelic football comparable to any Galacticos Real Madrid ever produced. But there’s something else. There has to be.

Maybe it’s mindsets, maybe it’s structures. These serially successful clubs don’t just automatically set off on their sporting journeys guaranteed to reach greatness.

You see, even within Dublin, the Marino club is far from being alone in being one of the most decorated units in the entire Association. Ballymun Kickhams, Ballyboden St Enda’s, Thomas Davis and Kilmacud Crokes have all gone on on long enough (time wise) runs of success.

Though not with an ass’s roar of what St Vincent’s have achieved, Kilmacud are certainly the nearest Dublin football has seen to the all-conquering Saints of yesteryear.

Robbie Brennan has moulded Kilmacud into a dominant force

Of course, at this point, it should be pointed out that Crokes have plenty of contemporaries around the country, like Crossmaglen Rangers and Corofin and Nemo Rangers and Kilcoo and Slaughtneil, all of whom have, in different ways, wielded all consuming influence on their local championships and experienced considerable odysseys in the provincial and All Ireland Championships. You’re probably wondering why all of the above has been ruminating with the occupant of this seat, so here goes…

With the more recent exception of our exceptionally gifted lady footballers, since the pre-Christmas rounds of the National Leagues were (wrongly in my view) discontinued, whenever Dunboyne’s adult teams conclude their involvement in the local club championships heralds the start of winter. This corner’s most dreaded time of year.

Now, whether the following is down to me getting a bit older, yours truly struggling with mental health or the fact the da’s not here anymore is hard to say, but, once our teams wind down, something as simple as getting the wheelchair out the door can be too much of a battle.

Whereas years ago, not only would every game in the tail end of the local championships be taken in, the journey of whoever emerged as county champions in the Leinster Club Championships would also be embarked upon. That in support of Seneschalstown in 1994 will never be forgotten.

In contrast, on Sunday last, as the Meath SFC reached its second last hurdle, for me, it was a case of wintry Sundays setting in as the sun still shone.

Cian Rogers will surely have entered Colm O’Rourke’s calculations

From a Dunboyne perspective, the greatest feelings are of frustration, disappointment and no little anger. The latter coming out of a need for certain entities to take long, lingering looks in the mirror. Not for the first time, gut feeling is that a glorious opportunity to host the Keegan Cup for Christmas dinner again was coughed up.

So, on that most recent sunny wintry Sunday it was a case of being logged into Twitter and following along in envious admiration as our near neighbours Ratoath qualified for their third Meath SFC Final in four years, where they will be striving for their second success in three seasons. This on top of their rapidly approaching second Meath SHC Final appearance in a similar time frame. And all of this achieved with largely the same core group of players.

Under the previous Meath senior football management, a serious bone of contention among the naysayers and doom mongers was the number of players representing those based in Sean Eiffe Park given game time. All of which was slurry agitation as far as I’d be concerned.

The facts don’t lie, and Ratoath’s prominent showing in so many competitions – and most pointedly the relevant one to this offering – serves to underline the quality of player the club are producing.

Indeed to underline that very point, the one working eye here would consider Cian Rogers the most impressive performer observed during the current club season. A man who – to the best of my knowledge – has yet to be afforded an opportunity with the county at the highest level.

It’s also worth noting that Liam Kelly and Mossie Corbett – two of the most pivotal members of Meath’s All Ireland MFC winning side of 2021 – had to be content with roles as bench warmers last weekend. Moreover, before anybody starts grinding axes over the numbers of players from given clubs engaging in active service, consider that, at one point, St Vincent’s were supplying 14 players out of Dublin’s starting team. Didn’t work out too bad for them either!

In no way is a direct comparison between St Vincent’s and matters much closer to home being engaged in. It just recalled the quote by Sean Boylan as his charges strove to scale the mountain top that was beating Dublin at the time.

“They don’t eat any better spuds than we do”. I understood. The sentiment still carries weight today. So what does set the elitely successful clubs apart from the rest of the pack?

Answers on a postcard please. Unfortunately, in certain places, there remains an amply long winter to try figuring it all out!

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