Dunedin Connollys adventure continues
By Cian O'Connell
For nearly a dozen years Alan Ward has filled almost every role imaginable for Dunedin Connollys so the December All Ireland Junior Quarter-Final win in Edinburgh was a particularly sweet moment.
The narrow victory over Leinster Champions Rosenallis ensures Dunedin Connollys can look forward to a match at the penultimate stage of the competition on Sunday against Tyrone's The Rock.
Having secured a second British Championship, Dunedin Connollys produced a gritty display to defeat the Laois outfit. “We made a breakthrough in 2009 when we won our first British Championship,” Roscommon native Ward says about the encouraging recent campaigns for Dunedin Connollys.
“We had been very close for a number of years, we had lost finals in the British Championship. We had always been pretty close, there or thereabouts so 09 was probably the breakthrough year. We had been back a few times since, but we just didn't get over the line.
“It was definitely our biggest day for our men's team because our ladies team have overshadowed us for the last few years.”
Ward, who coaches the team alongside manager Cormac O’Gara, was delighted to feature in the last quarter of the historic success against Rosenallis.
One more triumph over a highly regarded The Rock St Patrick’s from Tyrone would earn Dunedin Connollys a much coveted place in the All Ireland Final at GAA headquarters in Croke Park. “It is a massive carrot, but we have to be realistic as well,” Ward admits.
“We will be massive underdogs, we know we have a big task ahead of us.
“The confidence is up, everyone is just really looking forward to it and it will be about going out to win, not getting carried away. It is a game at the end of the day even if the reward is massive, we just have to treat it as another game.”
Ward offers an insight in to how Dunedin Connollys operate each year. “The Scottish Championship only has four teams so you end up playing one another a couple of times in a round robin with the top two playing in the Final.
“It is the same in the League so you are only getting maybe 12 or 14 games up in Scotland and then you have the British Championship which is three games. It isn't a huge amount, but at the same time it keeps us ticking over. The competition here, at times it can be quite good, at times it can be weak.
“So it can be difficult enough, we try to get as many challenge matches as we can, but it is tough to get games. It is tough to get the quality games we need to bring us on to the next level.”
What remains evident, though, is the attitude and application of those interested in Dunedin Connollys with Ward stressing the problems his native Ballinameen encounter in Roscommon.
“We train twice a week, Tuesday and Thursday all through the year. We broke the 100 session training mark last week, then at weekends we are always playing games or training. It is very much three days a week, the same as any club team in Ireland. We have two teams, when the Juniors are training as well we could have 40 guys training.
“A lot of people are interested in the GAA around Edinburgh. There is a great social aspect, if you aren't really interested in getting into the senior team the junior team is there and we have good numbers. We have 27 in the panel and we regularly have more than 20 at training, we are proud of that. It is a good thing to be able to say. I was talking to my Dad and he was saying that my club team at home would be struggling for those numbers during the week.
“Ballinameen, between Frenchpark and Boyle, we are really struggling at the moment which breaks your heart a small bit. There has been a lot of emigration and not much going on underage because the numbers aren't really there.
“We would be one of the smallest clubs in Connacht so it is tough times for them. Hopefully they can keep things going to become a force again. When I was there they were Intermediate and got to a few Finals, but now they are Junior and not really competing. It is tough.”
A decade ago significant numbers flocked to Universities in Edinburgh from Ireland, but that hasn’t been the case recently according to Ward. “When I joined it was a big factor,” Ward says about how students became involved with Dunedin Connollys.
“I moved over in 2002, I was going back home to play for my club when I was in College myself. It was only when I stayed to work in Edinburgh that I joined the club in 2005. So back then a lot of students came in which was a big factor, but in recent years it hasn't been like that at all.
“Most guys we have are working, in the current panel I think we only have two students. It would have been one time, but the ladies do have a lot of students coming into Queen Margaret University especially.
“One of the issues is that the fees have gone up in recent years in the UK and the money just isn't there to afford to do these courses. I know the University I went to, Napier, they had a team for 10 years, but that went away about two years ago.
“They just didn't have the numbers anymore, whereas one time they had two teams. It might come again, who knows? At the moment it isn't effecting us hugely.”
It has been a stirring campaign for Dunedin Connollys with Ward acknowledging the strong west of Ireland influence presently.
“We have six guys from Mayo, who are all in the team. Conor Horan, who plays wing back for us played minor for Mayo. Frank Molloy, who is our elder statesman on the team, he would have played for Mayo back in the late 90s. Sean Malee obviously was there too in the Mayo panel. Our Chairman Ronan McGurk, was in a Tyrone minor squad about 12 years ago. We have a few guys like that, we have a lot of quality players.
“The two times John Mitchels reached the All Ireland Final they beat us along the way by narrow margins. We had always been bridesmaids in the British Championships. We have won 10 of the last 12 Scottish titles so we had plenty of opportunities to win Britain, but we just never got over the line. This year when we did get over the line we wanted to make the most of it. We have continued to work hard since we won in Britain three weeks ago, we got our just reward on Saturday.
“We knew that we had a good chance against the Leinster Championships, we had a good look at them in action. They are a decent team in their own right and on the day they gave us plenty of concerns, but we knew we had a good chance, thankfully we pulled it off.”
The Dunedin Connolly adventure continues.
Sunday January 29
AIB All Ireland Club Junior Football Championship Semi-Final
Dunedin Connollys (Edinburgh) v Rock (Tyrone), Athletic Grounds, 12.30pm