League woes were char­ac­ter-build­ing in­sists new boss Phillips

Drogheda Independent - - SPORT - JOHN SAV­AGE

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.’

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