Pre­views ahead of the camo­gie fi­nals day

Hol­ly­wood and Avoca pre­par­ing for Ju­nior ‘B’ de­cider

Wicklow People (West Edition) - - SPORT - BREN­DAN LAWRENCE Sports Ed­i­tor

WICK­LOW GAA sup­port­ers have a mouth­wa­ter­ing bat­tle on the menu when the ball is thrown for the 2018 Philip Doyle Ju­nior ‘B’ Foot­ball Cham­pi­onship this Satur­day in Joule Park Aughrim be­tween Avoca and Hol­ly­wood at 2pm.

Both sides came through their re­spec­tive groups un­harmed with three wins from three with Avoca scor­ing 20 points (19 from play) against Balt­in­glass in the quar­ter-fi­nal be­fore thump­ing Bray and keep­ing them to a sin­gle point in the semi-fi­nal while Hol­ly­wood came through a su­per bat­tle with En­niskerry to take their place in the de­cider that prom­ises to be a thrilling game of foot­ball in the county grounds.

Avoca man­ager Mark O’Neill along with his man­age­ment team of Ed­die Leonard, Michael Quinn, Pat Hickey and Liz Fahy have com­pletely re­vived Avoca’s foot­balling for­tunes since they took over at the helm for this sea­son.

Not only have they rad­i­cally al­tered the at­ti­tude and cul­ture within the team, but they have also reen­er­gised the lo­cal com­mu­nity who they ad­mit had fallen away in re­cent years in terms of sup­port and trav­el­ling to games. Their turnout at the quar­ter-fi­nal in Annacurra and the huge crowd that flocked to Dun­bur Park for the semi-fi­nal rout of Bray is ev­i­dence that this is very much the case down at the Meet­ing of the Wa­ters.

Hol­ly­wood, led by Keith Burke, en­ter this game as mas­sive con­tenders for this ti­tle and any­one who might think oth­er­wise would need to book an ap­point­ment with their lo­cal GP who will most cer­tainly pre­scribe some pro­foundly pow­er­ful med­i­ca­tion.

The Hol­ly­wood Ju­nior ‘B’ team, ta­lented in their own right, are also be­ing lifted along on the crest of the wave that the Se­nior out­fit are surf­ing thanks to the ef­fect of Mick Mur­ray and his back­room team are hav­ing on the club.

With many of the Ju­nior ‘B’ side train­ing with the Se­niors, the team Avoca will face on Satur­day will be full or run­ning in cer­tain ar­eas and brim­ming with ex­pe­ri­ence in oth­ers, and that is what makes them so dan­ger­ous to the Avoca men.

For­mer Annacurra player and Wood­en­bridge na­tive Mark O’Neill has ev­ery con­fi­dence in his charges who he says have ful­filled their dream al­ready in 2018 by just get­ting to the fi­nal. A win on Satur­day would be the ic­ing on top of the cake ac­cord­ing to O’Neill but it was the fun­da­men­tal shift in at­ti­tude and cul­ture and the reach­ing of a county fi­nal that were the orig­i­nal aims when he took over the job as man­ager.

‘We in­tro­duced three ba­sic prin­ci­ples to the play­ers when we took over. 1: Dis­ci­pline, 2: Hon­esty, and 3: Re­spect. They are our core prin­ci­ples, we weren’t go­ing to overly com­pli­cate things. They are the rules that we live by, and from the first night back in Jan­uary the play­ers have thrown them­selves be­hind that.

‘It has taken a few months for ev­ery­body to un­der­stand it but we have been get­ting over 20 play­ers at ev­ery train­ing ses­sion and ev­ery­body is putting ev­ery­thing into it and it’s been a plea­sure to be with them in the last six months in par­tic­u­lar. We never have to worry about how many will be at train­ing, there’s al­ways be­tween 20 and 25 and that gives you mo­men­tum be­cause every­one buys into it,’ he added.

O’Neill’s back­ground is in project man­age­ment and even via a con­ver­sa­tion over the phone it’s clear that he is in the right trade. He talks a se­ri­ously good game.

‘We are build­ing a tra­di­tion,’ he said. It’s a sim­ple state­ment, but also a pro­found one - one that can have far-reach­ing ef­fects for a ru­ral club like Avoca.

Take this Ju­nior ‘B’ team who have lan­guished for years at the mid­dle to bot­tom rung of the lad­der of Wick­low foot­ball, a squad with a rep­u­ta­tion, fair or un­fair who knows, of ill-dis­ci­pline and lack of com­mit­ment. When a club goes down that road all the ben­e­fits of com­mit­ment and dis­ci­pline go out the win­dow as well: com­mu­nity sup­port, a con­veyor belt of un­der­age tal­ent who are in­spired by their adult coun­ter­parts, pride, be­lief.

2018 has been noth­ing short of rev­o­lu­tion­ary for Avoca. The lo­cal school has been run­ning an art com­peiti­tion ahead of the county fi­nal, bunting has gone up, flags are up, pride is swelling the black and am­ber hearts, be­lief has re­turned, eyes are bright, hopes are high.

‘This team want to go up to In­ter­me­di­ate in the next five years and there’s no rea­son why they can’t do that,’ said Mark O’Neill. ‘We were un­lucky to lose to Avon­dale at the start of the year (their only de­feat this sea­son). It was a bit early in the year for us, phys­i­cally. We’ve had 16 games this year and we won all but one. The stan­dard the lads are play­ing is eas­ily Ju­nior ‘A’ or In­ter­me­di­ate at times,’ he added.

Hol­ly­wood man­ager Keith Burke re­alises the hefty chal­lenge that awaits his men in the county de­cider on Satur­day. Build­ing tra­di­tions and win­ning over the hearts of the com­mu­nity won’t be the top of his agenda when he sends his ta­lented crew out on the field of bat­tle. The rea­son be­ing that Hol­ly­wood are a bit fur­ther down the road on that jour­ney than Avoca are with the club fly­ing high in terms of foot­ball and sup­port. A drop to In­ter­me­di­ate proved to be a bless­ing for the west club.

They im­me­di­ately bounced back and are now tak­ing the Senor cham­pi­onship by storm by be­ing the only team to have taken a point off the de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons and han­dling ev­ery­thing else that came their way.

The sup­port they bring to games is su­perb. The sup­port­ers are vo­cal and lively and colour­ful and the club is very much at the heart of the Hol­ly­wood com­mu­nity and the com­mu­nity is very much at the heart of the club.

Burke con­fesses to a slight lack of fa­mil­iar­ity with the cur­rent Avoca side but has plenty of ex­pe­ri­ence of play­ing them a few years back in Avon­dale and re­turn­ing home with tails be­tween the legs af­ter com­ing up against strong, stub­born out­fit.

‘We’re com­ing in a bit blind,’ he said. ‘We know they move the ball well at one end, but they can ob­vi­ously de­fend as well if they kept Bray to a point in the semi-fi­nal,’ he added.

Fol­low­ing a de­feat of Dunlavin in the quar­ter-fi­nal, Burke’s charges moved on to face En­niskerry in the last four. A poor first half was fol­lowed by the best 30 min­utes they have played all sea­son, ac­cord­ing to their man­ager. He wants more of that this Satur­day. He wants con­sis­tency.

‘At half-time we said we were giv­ing them too much room and in the sec­ond half when we came for­ward we came for­ward to­gether. The young lads who have been train­ing with the Se­niors came to the fore and we got the more ex­pe­ri­enced guys up the field. John Mooney came up with a goal, Keith Pep­pard came on and scored a few lovely points. Our bench is very im­por­tant.

‘That sec­ond half was the best 30 min­utes of foot­ball we have played. We were ex­cel­lent. Col­lec­tively we have a good group of lads and we are start­ing to do what we be­lieve they can do. We’re in a fi­nal. They don’t come around that of­ten,’ he added.

The game is likely to be tense and er­ror-rid­den early on as pres­sure and nerves kick in. Mark O’Neill’s ma­jor job will be to have his charges brim­ming with en­ergy and pos­i­tiv­ity but free of neg­a­tive bag­gage and re­stric­tive nerves that will cause legs to be heavy and minds to be slow.

He ex­udes pride when he speaks about his play­ers and the im­prove­ments that they have made in the last few months while also dis­miss­ing that it is to his credit or to the credit of his man­age­ment team and that in­stead he has merely fa­cil­i­tated and en­cour­aged the ap­pear­ance of skill and pas­sion and de­sire that was al­ready there, planted long ago by proud and ta­lented gen­er­a­tions of footballers and hurlers who they will take to the field on Satur­day to hon­our in the black and am­ber.

‘Hol­ly­wood area se­ri­ous out­fit,’ said Mark O’Neill. ‘It’s go­ing to be a tight game, there’ll be a lot fo nerves in the open­ing 20 min­utes and who­ever makes less er­rors will be lead­ing af­ter that time. It’s about who can set­tle into the game quicker.

‘We will not be look­ing at Hol­ly­wood, there’s no man-mark­ing, our set up is straight-for­ward and we want the lads to go out and play our game.

‘We’re ex­pect­ing Hol­ly­wood to try and stop that, so we will have a plan‘ B’ to re­lease a few lads to make hay. I think the sec­ond half will open up,’ he added.

Both clubs have com­mit­ted back­room teams and Mark O’Neill would like to pay spe­cial trib­ute to Liz Fahy who he says has been ‘su­perb’ in terms of or­gan­i­sa­tion and ef­fort’. He also has spe­cial praise for Kevin Harpur who while not get­ting much game time has given ev­ery­thing to train­ing and to driv­ing on the lads.

It all makes for a fas­ci­nat­ing Philip Doyle Ju­nior ‘B’ Foot­ball Cham­pi­onship fi­nal. Can the proud men of Hol­ly­wood take the ti­tle back west or can the resur­gent and free-flow­ing Avoca bring glory back to the beau­ti­ful val­ley af­ter many years of drought?

We’ll find out on Satur­day after­noon.

The Hol­ly­wood footballers who face Avoca in the Philip Doyle Ju­nior ‘B’ Foot­ball Cham­pi­onship fi­nal this Satur­day.

The Avoca Ju­nior ‘B’ foot­ball side who will take on Hol­ly­wood in the county fi­nal this Satur­day in Joule Park Aughrim.

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