‘NOTHING TO FEAR’
Blessington boss confident ahead of clash with Village
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?