Brendan O Sullivan

All Ireland Colleges Glory

February 17th, 2012
by Brendan O Sullivan

I was a reluctant GAA manager. Younger teachers in our College of Further Education, Colaiste Ide in Dublin, looked after the football team. But, when the last of them, Kerryman Joe O'Sullivan from Brandon left on career break, he twisted my arm to take charge, arguing that GAA must continue in the college and that students would do most of the work.

This happened in the first year when an enthusiastic young man,  unable to play because of injury, undertook many of the duties.  We won more matches than we lost but with discipline deteriorating as the year went on, I determined to throw off the L-plates and take a more hands-on role in the second year. I was hugely assisted in this when my colleague, Roy Lalor, who had management experience in other sports, joined up as co-manager.

We worked well together. I registered students with Croke Park, contacted opposing managers regarding match arrangements, negotiated with local clubs for the use of their grounds and notified referees as we had to provide one for home League games. Roy organized jerseys, footballs, training, buses for away trips and gave the all-important team talks before the match and at half-time. We both worked on motivating players, carefully selecting a captain and vice-captain and consulting them regarding team matters before each match.

We soldiered for a number of years with little success, having the occasional moral victory when we put up a good show in the Trench Cup against an IT college. But, in the autumn of 2005, we realized that we had a talented panel at our disposal. Post-Leaving Cert Courses generally last two years, we had excellent players going into second year and the first years included Dublin, Meath and Kildare minors. We won our autumn League games and looked forward to the Cup with hope. The GAA in its wisdom had introduced a third cup, Corn na Mac Leinn, to cater for colleges like ourselves battling away in the Trench Cup for years with little chance of winning a game, never mind the competition.

Our first round opposition couldn't field a team so we went straight into an away quarter final against a college from Derry. We travelled with 18 players and 2 supporters, a long trip, almost 4 hours on the bus. We were apprehensive, playing a northern college with a northern referee.
But all fears proved groundless as we streaked into the lead and were comfortably ahead at half-time. Our inspirational captain, Dublin minor and under 21 player Willie Lowry, appeared to be suffering from a combination of a minor injury and the after-effects of a late night-he was at college, after all- and we were able to replace him for the second half and give all 3 subs a run.

A week later, we played Carlow in a home semi-final. Again, we stretched into a good lead and although Carlow came back with late scores we were clear winners. Their comeback was partly due to the loss of our solid full-back, Mark Flanagan, to injury. Mark played every game during his two years on the team and the next day we heard that the dreaded cruciate ligament injury would rule him out of the final.

This was scheduled for the last Saturday in February at 1 p.m. in DCU Sportsgrounds, close to our college. It would be followed by the Trench Cup final, with the Sigerson Cup final in Parnell Park later in the day. The days leading up to the match were hectic with team selection high on the agenda. The crucial full back position was taken by Philly McMahon, who won an All-Ireland medal with Dublin last year.

We met at the college in mid-morning. After some inspiring words from Roy Lalor, we headed for DCU. Our opponents were Mater Dei whom we had beaten earlier in the League. But the Cup final was a different ballgame and our team didn't play at all in the first half. They were stuck to the ground and only heroic play from Philly McMahon and other defenders kept us in the game. At half time the team headed for the dressing room, fortunate to be only 4 points down. As managers we held back, deciding on changes for the second half. When selecting the  starting fifteen we had been loyal to a couple of students who had  turned out for every game but we now had to be ruthless and replace them with the better players who were on the bench. In the dressing room, one of the quieter players was engaged in a rousing team talk. There was no need to say much more, they all knew they had underperformed.

The game restarted, Mater Dei went a further point ahead. The changes began to work, our midfielders took control and we gradually got into the game. 3 points in a row left us 2 behind. Then a high ball into the goalmouth was fisted to the net by full forward Michael O'Connor and we were ahead. We increased the lead but there were scary moments near the end as Mater Dei laid siege to our goal. In their last attack, Willie Lowry fielded the ball in his own goalmouth, burst through tackles, soloed the length of the field and was fouled thirty yards from the Mater Dei goal. The free was tapped over, the final whistle blew, we were 4 points ahead and All-Ireland Champions.

It wasn't Croke Park on a September Sunday but it was our All-Ireland. Initially a most reluctant recruit to the role, I had now co-managed a team which had won an All-Ireland. Six years later, the sense of satisfaction is still strong.

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