Previews ahead of the camogie finals day
Hollywood and Avoca preparing for Junior ‘B’ decider
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.