League woes were character-building insists new boss Phillips
A dreadful start to 2017 prompted many observers to write Newtown Blues off before a ball was even kicked in the Louth Senior Football Championship this summer.
But they pride themselves on being a ‘championship team’ down in Newfoundwell and the proof is in the silverware - 20 SFC titles and counting!
Ironically, Ronan Philips believes those early difficulties in the league were character building, and while it was a trying time for a young manager in his first season with his lifelong club, it was a valuable learning curve for everyone.
‘We need to show a lot of patience,’ he says. ‘We had an awful lot of injuries at the start of the year and of course, there were a few players playing other sports. And then the star matches just came at the wrong time for us. We were missing four of the better players obviously for them.
‘So we got no luck at start of the year. But we played very well and we blooded a lot of the young players through that and we probably wouldn’t have got the opportunity to do that otherwise. We were panicking for a lot of the year about relegation. In my first year managing the Blues, being the first manager to bring them down to Division 2 would have been a disaster. But fair play to the lads, when we got the team together, they were brilliant.
‘We probably used about 50 players and we brought through some of the minors that were maybe considered ‘lesser lights’. Hopefully now there’s a good mix between youth and experience in the team so it’s worked out well.
‘The older lads are very good there with the younger lads. They’ve played in Championship finals and it’s good that they can give advice.’
Going into their opening game against Kilkerley Emmets Blues supporters probably didn’t really know what to expect, but they answered their critics with a devastating first-half display.
‘After building up a big lead in that opener, they let Kilkerley back into the game, but it was a loud statement of intent and Phillips wasn’t worried about the second-half lapse.
‘Matches tend to go like that when you run up a big lead and it
was no good us beating Kilkerley at that time by 14 or 15 points. We learned more from what happened in the second half than what we did in the first half and it brought us into the Dreadnots, a bit more prepared..
‘Clogher’ were doing very well in the League and I know we hadn’t that much of a team against them earlier on, but they destroyed us in the league. But in the championship, even though there was only three or four points in the game, I thought we were better than that even on the day. So that was maybe the day maybe we turned a corner here. We probably started thinking about Championship then, whereas we never would have had it in our mind before that.’
Blues had to see off another powerhouse in the last eight in the form of St Patrick’s, a game they won without playing particularly well.
‘Pat’s are obviously not the power they were but when you’re beating clever footballers like them it’s still good. They’ve been around the block, they’re good, clean, hard footballers and it was brilliant for the young lads to beat the Pats, and beat the likes of Paddy Keenan. That was a great confidence booster for the younger lads.’
The semi-final final was something of a dress rehearsal in terms of the sytem and style of play they will face on Sunday and St Joseph’s did put it up to Phillips’ men in the opening half.
In the first half, to be honest with you, we struggled. The goal was probably the turning point in that game, because they played so well in the first half and we went in a point ahead.
‘I’d say they were a bit disillusioned and in the first five or ten minutes of the second half, we got everything right and we played very, very well.’
With a similar defensive approach expected from the Gaels’ on Sunday, Phillips knows you can plan forever and a day, but it will count for nothing if you don’t perform.
‘We have plans, we have loads of plans, but I think until you get on that pitch and actually play against them, you never know. You could be left red faced with your plans, but we’re blessed with a lot of intelligent footballers. we can managing and change the way we play. We have to be patient and hopefully break them down. But we’re under no illusions. They’re a very, very good team.
He’s won county titles as a player, but you get the feeling a victory on Sunday would top the lot for Phillips.
‘It would mean everything to be honest with you. It would be brilliant. I suppose I feel it [the pressure] more being the manager. It was something I always wanted to do but I never thought I’d do it this early. But we know this is going to be the hardest game of the year. We’re under no illusions about that. The lads know it’s going to the be the hardest match of the year. So we have to be ready.’