Bless­ing­ton boss con­fi­dent ahead of clash with Village

Wicklow People (West Edition) - - SPORT - Sports Re­porter DANIEL GOR­MAN

IT takes ap­prox­i­mately an hour to get from Bless­ing­ton to Aughrim. Barry O’Dono­van’s com­mute this week could take him up to 24 hours.

That’s be­cause the Blesso man­ager has re­cently em­i­grated to Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia but will be re­turn­ing to these shores to over­see the fi­nal be­fore re­turn­ing to the land down un­der.

The 40-year-old is in his sec­ond sea­son in charge of his home­town but work com­mit­ments saw leave him Bless­ing­ton and Ire­land be­hind. What he hadn’t counted on though was that the SFC fi­nal wouldn’t take place un­til Oc­to­ber 15 and that his side would be a part of it.

So, in­stead of hunch­ing over a notepad of tac­tics or bel­low­ing vi­tal in­struc­tions at his team dur­ing train­ing this week, he’ll be over 17,000kms away and 10 hours ahead of his charges.

It is most cer­tainly not text­book preparation but it couldn’t be avoided.

The plans to move to Oz were de­cided back in March/April. A de­lay of al­most 14 weeks be­fore be­ing awarded a visa al­lowed O’Dono­van to take charge of his side’s quar­ter-fi­nal vic­tory and he stalled on the move to al­low him to guide them through the semi-fi­nal too but he could post­pone it no more.

But hav­ing hav­ing watched his club wait since 1988 to reach a fi­nal, he wasn’t going to miss it. With lit­tle or no con­nec­tion to the ’88 team, O’Dono­van wants his young guns to make new mem­o­ries.

“The GAA foot­ball sea­son isn’t the eas­i­est to plan around! Typ­i­cally, in most other years I would’ve still been around for the county fi­nal but that’s the way it has gone this year with re­plays. You’ve just got to take it as it comes.

“I don’t ac­tu­ally other than the fact that I would’ve played with Fer­gus Daly. He was prob­a­bly one of the few guys to have played in that fi­nal in ’88 so to get here in 2017 is a whole new gen­er­a­tion.

“Most of the team are un­der 30 so most of them wouldn’t have been born the last time we were in a fi­nal. It’s great for the younger play­ers and the school­boys and the un­der­age peo­ple who can see the build-up to a county fi­nal be­cause it’s ob­vi­ously been a long pe­riod of time since the last one.”

What O’Dono­van couldn’t do as a player, he has done as a man­ager. And whilst he may pre­fer to be stand­ing on the other side of the side­line, he is still thrilled to have nav­i­gated his side to Sun­day’s show­down es­pe­cially after a bumpy jour­ney in the group stages which saw them pick up two de­feats and left their chances of mak­ing the quar­ter-fi­nals in jeop­ardy.

“I’d love to give my­self a jer­sey for the week­end to be hon­est! I don’t know how many semi-fi­nals I was beaten in. It was prob­a­bly seven or eight plus the re­plays. We could just never get over the hur­dle so that’s why it’s very sat­is­fy­ing to fi­nally get there es­pe­cially after a bad group cam­paign. The win over Pat’s gave us con­fi­dence and then we got over Avon­dale in the semi and now we’re in the fi­nal and it’s great.

“It’s hard to put your fin­ger on it (the turn­around). It’s very hard to be con­sis­tent all the way through the year.

“We had a lot of guys that went to Amer­ica be­tween the league and the cham­pi­onship – I think we had four in Amer­ica on J1’s and lads were away for the sum­mer on hol­i­days.

“We’d in­juries too and for var­i­ous rea­sons, we played a lot of those group games with 19/20 play­ers maximum and we were hav­ing to chop and change a lot. In all the games, we ac­tu­ally played quite well for cer­tain pe­ri­ods.

“Against Kil­te­gan and AGB, we went six or eight points ahead in the first half and then gave away killer goals and got caught by small mar­gins but we were still beaten.

“We learned a lot from that. We changed the team a lot be­tween the group stages and now be­tween po­si­tional and the way we played.

“Against Pat’s in par­tic­u­lar, hav­ing been beaten by them in the semi-fi­nal last year, we’d been wait­ing for them for a full year so get­ting them in the quar­ter-fi­nal worked out well and the changes have def­i­nitely given us a new con­fi­dence.”

That con­fi­dence will be tested this Sun­day against Rath­new and their in­cred­i­ble win­ning at­ti­tude. Bless­ing­ton in­flicted de­feat on the Village in the league opener in Rath­new – the only home de­feat of the cam­paign for Rath­new – but Rath­new got their re­venge in Bless­ing­ton and O’Dono­van is all too fa­mil­iar with the pedi­gree of Harry Mur­phy’s side.

“Rath­new are al­ways there or there­abouts. They’ve play­ers who ev­ery­one knows , the likes of Leighton (Glynn), Damien (Power) and (James) Stafford etc – they’re not going to hand you any­thing. They’ll be going in as warm favourites but I think we’re con­fi­dent that if we play our best then we can win the county fi­nal.

“They’ve more ex­pe­ri­ence of the day and the build-up and it’ll be sec­ond na­ture to them and it’ll be new to us but when you’re in a fi­nal, any­thing can hap­pen. The game will be de­cided by who plays best on the day. Fi­nals are very much their own fi­nal. Player-wise, we’ve noth­ing to fear. If we put our best foot for­ward, we can win.”

Rath­new se­cured their place for the fi­nal with a four-point suc­cess over Balt­in­glass on Sun­day – a match that the Bless­ing­ton camp de­cided to avoid. O’Dono­van ex­plains: “We’ve enough to do our­selves in pre­par­ing for the fi­nal and our own train­ing.”

O’Dono­van re­turns to Ire­land on Thursday. He has a flight booked back to Mel­bourne for Mon­day. A win would leave him with a smile wider than the wing­span of the plane, a loss could make it the long­est 24 hours of his life. But wait, what if it’s a draw?

“We’ll worry about it on Sun­day night!”

Can Barry O’Dono­van end the famine in Bless­ing­ton?

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