Dunlavin have come a long way after tough times
DUNLAVIN has known its share of tough times in recent years, on and off the football field and Sunday’s Darcy Sand Intermediate Football final against Kilmacanogue presents a wonderful opportunity for a sporting success to provide a massive boost for a proud footballing community.
Dunlavin last appeared in a final in 2017 when they were heavily defeated by Hollywood in the final, conceding five hammer-blow goals.
However, all that paled into utter insignificance when the club and community lost one of their own when Louis Caplis died in tragic circumstances.
Priorities and what’s important in life were firmly arranged for the community on that terrible day but it is perhaps a sign of what is truly wonderful about organisations like the GAA that Louis’ colleagues have tightened their bonds, embraced each other and their common sporting goal and turned in a year of football that has them 60 minutes away from Senior football.
We meet team captain Sean Phelan and manager Jonathan Daniels in the lovely Dunlavin GAA clubhouse and we speak for almost an hour and, sadly, only a small percentage of that coversation can make it into and interview but both men are candid and honest and open about where this team have came from and where they hope it’s going.
‘This is the time of year when pitches are wet, the wind is blowing and you love training because if you’re training at the end of September, start of October you’re training for something really important.
‘It’s a real good time. It’s easy to motivate yourself, people around you,’ begins Jonathan Daniels, formerly the manager of Kilmacanogue for three years, winning the Junior ‘A’ title with them.
Dunlavin captain Sean Phelan reflects on where the team have came from since that final defeat to Hollywood even though neither he nor Daniels were involved back then.
‘Neither of us were part of the squad that year. I had prior commitments with college. It was a case of starting from scratch again, what we’re good at.
‘I think when Jonathan came in he asked us what were the values, the ethos, what we thought we were,’ he said.
Jonathan Daniels said that when he started with the team he was looking for players to be honest about where they were.
‘When I came in, it felt like a transition. I felt I was going to take over a very different team. When I came in, from that county final, definitely 10 players had moved on for various reasons. When we came in first I wanted to find out what were the values of the team, what did they believe in. I thought it was quite interesting, we were in this room and we asked the players what do you think other teams would say about Dunlavin,’ he said.
‘What we were looking for in that conversation was honesty, and that people were able to look each other in the eye and have an honest conversation, and go, ‘right, we felt that people looked at us as a really good footballing side’, and that’s all they thought.
‘So what do we need to add, what other moving parts do we need to add?
‘When I came in I found that the expectation in Dunlavin is very high, on the ground. You’re coming in and you have fellows with double Minor medals, there’s no shortage of underage medals, no shortage of good pedigree so the expectation is very high. When I came in you were dealing with 10 players that had gone from a county final. You get to a final and you take learnings from it. I don’t think you take much learnings from conceding five goals. After conceding five goals, a lot of people want to park it and move forward,’ he said.
Last season, Dunlavin competed in Division 1 of the football league but Jonathan Daniels feels that the team have been much better served by playing in Division 1A which is a much closer reflection of what Intermediate championship is like rather than getting a false impression by playing the top football teams in the county.
‘I think that when you’re playing Intermediate championship, I don’t think playing Division 1 football serves you very well. It’s a different type of football and you get a false impression of where you are,’ he said.
‘You’re playing your best 15, you’re not getting a chance to give other lads game time. Being in Division 1A gave us that opportunity this year,’ aded Sean Phelan.
‘We couldn’t go to those top five teams and play our young guys in defence. You’d be marking a really top forward,’ said Jonathan.
Sean reflects back on where the team have came from since the defeat to Hollywood.
‘I think the unit of the team now, everybody started fresh at that stage.
‘It’s just been a constand journey, everybody together and we’ve stayed that small group and evereybody hass got closer and closer. It’s about building those relationships again, the core team, the average age is about 22 or 23, everybody is all on the one wavelenght, they do everything together and that has been a huge thing for us.
‘In terms of last year, we had a hard time to get over but I think we’ve come out the other end of it and I think it has served us, not only having the team so close together, bt the club and the town around you, supporting you, just knowing that you’re doing it for yourslef and for everybody else, the panel is just that much stronger.
‘It was crucial really, and not just the club but the GAA community. Coming up through the town on the day of Louis’ funeral and seeing all the different jerseys up along, that’s something that me and the lads and the town itself will never forget. It just goes to show that the GAA can have such an impact on people’s lives. Respect for each other,’ he added.
Sean Phelan is a 25-year-old teacher and this is his first captaincy of any Dunlavin team at any level despite winning two Minor county medals.
He says it’s the biggest honour of his footballing career to date.
‘Probably the biggest honour I’ve received. Apart from winning the two Minor championships, I don’t think there’s anything else. I sat in the stand 10 years ago and I always felt hard done by at underage level not getting the captaincy and then I seen in 2009 when they won it that that’s my dream now and when Jonathan said in Novemnber of last year, from then on that;’s my role and I’m going to di it the best I can,’ he said.
Jonathan Daniels says that what he was looking for in a captain was someone that all the players would look up to and in Sean Phelan he found the perfect match.
‘It’s young group ofplayers and you’re always looking fro one player to stand out from that grop. You’re not looking for the biggest talker, you’re looking for that one person who the playrs will look to and respect at different times sduring the year. He’s the glue that keeps them together,’ he said.
Jonathan Daniels knows Kilmacanogue football just as Kilmacanogue footballers know him.
He says in a perfect world he’d rather be playing another team because of the friendships he holds with so many people over in the shadow of the Sugarloaf.
‘In the perfect world I’d prefer to be playing someone else and it’s purely because of the connection because I have a lot of good friends over there. I’m still in regular contact with lots of people over there. I’ve a lot of respect for them.
‘You only have to see what they’ve done over there, the facilities, the peoiple around them, it’s phenomenal. I have a massive amount of respect for them. But we want to deliver over here. I have huge connnections over here. My family are from here. My brother played in the 1997 final for Dunlavin,’ he added. .
The Dunlavin boss says that he’s expecting a pure game of football on Sunday given how similar the teams are to each other.
‘I 100 per cent agree. It’s two teams that want to play football, there are no dark arts, I think it’s going to be an open game of football. They’re hugely athletic, they’re quick, and if you match us up we’re probably quite similar. I think it’s going to be really intriguing,’ he said.
Action from Dunlavin’s semi-final against Kilcoole. Jonathan Daniels will be hoping for another fine performance from his charges.
Dunlavin manager Jonathan Daniels with captain Sean Phelan at the clubhouse last Friday evening.