The Irish Mail on Sunday
Longford look to a Jack of ball trades
Sheedy’s another Dubs star calling the shots
IF Manchester United have the ‘Class of ’92’, Dublin has its own bunch of footballers who went on to spread their wings. It mightn’t have contained a style icon in the mould of David Beckham but Dublin’s ‘Class of ’95’ have certainly made their mark in management.
Pat Gilroy is the man who spearheaded the modern football revolution in the capital, bridging the gap to AllIreland success in 2011. Paul Curran guided Ballymun Kickhams to a county championship in 2012 and within a kick of a national club title. Jim Gavin mirrored the achievements of the late, great Kevin Heffernan in steering Dublin to a League and All-Ireland double in 2013.
And this year’s Leinster Championship sees three players from that era take charge of different counties – Gavin with Dublin, Paul Bealin with Westmeath and Jack Sheedy with Longford.
This afternoon, Sheedy will patrol the line at Pearse Park as his team take on Offaly in the first round of the Leinster Championship against a backdrop of debate that the divide between the haves and have-nots in Gaelic football is more pronounced than ever.
‘That’s across every sport,’ he replies. ‘Manchester United in the Premier League, Liverpool, Chelsea – the likes of them have the most money because they have a tradition of being the best teams. Dublin, because of the population base and location and all those things attract more sponsors, more benefits.
‘Longford don’t have that opportunity. But what you try and do is get the best out of the situation you’re in.
‘The supporters hope that they will win a Leinster Championship match, maybe two or three – that’s what they are hoping for every year. So there is an expectation there that they are going to achieve. Longford players and Offaly players put in as much work as Dublin guys.
‘The availability of resources is different but the work put in is the same.’
WHILE a cruciate knee injury deprived him of a chance to line out in the 1995 All-Ireland final against Tyrone, the former All-Star forward collected almost every honour the game has to offer during his playing days.
Being part of the management team which guided Dublin to AllIreland junior success in 2008 led to spells in charge of Edenderry in Offaly and Moorefield in Kildare before stepping up to the plate with Longford last autumn.
Given his varied involvement, how do the likes of Longford compete with Dublin who are evens to retain their All-Ireland?
‘The reality is Longford don’t compete. Unfortunately, we’re now in Division 4 – we were in Division 3 this season. So we don’t compete with Dublin.
‘Population-wise there is approximately 37,000 people in Longford as opposed to what we have in Dublin. So there is no comparison whatsoever, apart from the application of the guys to training, their dedication to being the best they can as Longford players.’
Asked if Longford would then be suited to a different competition, such as a two-tier All-Ireland, he addresses it head on. ‘That’s a valid question. But I would think that if you ask the majority of people in Longford do they want to operate in a different competition to the Dublins, Kerrys, they’d say no.
‘They want to be the best they can be and compete at the highest level.
‘Every guy that puts on a pair of football boots, whether it’s to go out training with his club or county, they have dreams of wanting to be playing in an AllIreland hurling final or football final or Leinster – it’s the same dream, just the opportunities to achieve that dream are very varied and in a lot of counties non-existent.
‘The professionalism, which is a cruel word, but it’s a professional sport in everything but the finan- cial package that is wrapped around it. GAA hurlers and footballers are every bit as fit as Premier League soccer players or Premiership rugby players. The same attention to detail is there except you’re holding down a job – or for a lot of guys it’s college which involves a lot of work as well.’ For someone who played with his club Lucan Sarsfields into his 40s, he admits, ‘I would love to be able to
It’s all the same dream, just the opportunities to achieve it are varied
play football in the environment that is there now,’ with the attention to detail that goes into every facet of modern team preparation.
BUT so much of Longford’s season could be defined by whether they can take the scalp of their more illustrious rivals this afternoon. ‘ Offaly came up from Division 4 last season and unfortunately for them they are going back down again. But Offaly would have a stronger football tradition than Longford in terms of the fact that their last Leinster was in 1997 while Longford’s last was in 1968. ‘But we can’t live in the past; we have got to deal with the present and look forward to the future and that’s what we are trying to do.’