Frankie Dolan still serving the Brigid's cause
By Cian O'Connell
With St Brigid’s busy preparing for a 13th County Final since 2000 Frankie Dolan is used to the drill by now.
This decider, though, is a little bit different. “I'm living in Roscommon, I'm married to a Roscommon Gaels woman, Caroline, it's great craic,” Dolan jokes.
“The funny thing about it is you wouldn't really meet a lot of the players, lads are working away and younger guys are in College all over the country. So I wouldn't see a lot of them, I'm working in the town, you'd meet a few players, a few individuals from the club. It has been relatively quiet from my point of view which is great.”
Dolan acknowledges that intrigue surrounds Sunday’s game at Dr Hyde Park. The Gaels’ last final appearance was in 2004 and while Brigid’s have been dominant in the intervening years there is a deep respect for Sunday’s opponents. “It is an interesting one for ourselves because the particular group we have and even myself as a player we never played Roscommon Gaels in a County Senior Final so it is new territory for us aswell,” Dolan says.
“We are really looking forward to it, they are a good team, they are a good footballing side and we've had a couple of battles down through the years.
“Roscommon Gaels have been building a nice panel of players over the past three or four years, Liam McNeill has brought in Alan Nolan with him this year and you can see the stamp Alan Nolan has put on the team.
“He was involved with Castlebar Mitchels for a few years, Alan is a very experienced guy, who has put his own touch on that team. They are playing to a system that has worked very well for them this year.”
Dolan and Eddie Lohan were in charge when Brigid’s returned to the summit of Roscommon football in 2016. That was a sweet success for the Kiltoom outfit, who had lost in a semi-final in 2015 following five titles on the spin.
“We won it last year and it would be nice if we were able to defend it again, to put back to back titles together,” Dolan admits. “It is going to be tough because I fancied Roscommon Gaels from a couple of months out to be in a County Final and they are a good team, I'm expecting a big game out of them on Sunday.
“One thing I felt that affected the group last year was a lot of people had us written off, especially inside in our own club, so it was nice to come back after losing a semi-final the previous year.
“To win that Championship it meant a lot to the players, it meant a lot to myself Eddie Lohan, and Ger Dowd as well to take over that group after a lot of people didn't want the job. To win a Championship was great to be honest.”
Dolan still delivered some playing cameos in 2016, but how has he found adapting to managerial and coaching duties? “I love the coaching side of things and matchday, but one thing I don't like is being constantly on the phone trying to get this and that, organising stuff,” is Dolan’s honest response.
“The football side and coaching part is something I love, especially when I finished playing. I wanted to keep involved in some way and to be able to go in to coach a team like that was great for me personally.”
A string of high profile figures have taken charge of Brigid’s teams during the past two decades with Dolan learning valuable lessons.
“You would pick up certain things off different managers over the years, but you have to put your own stamp on it,” Dolan states.
“Eddie Lohan and myself were in as joint managers last year and we worked very well together. Unfortunately Eddie couldn't stay on this year so I took the mantle on myself, I'm probably trying to put my own little stamp on it this year.
“You always pick up bits and pieces off different managers, you'd pick up bits and pieces as well off players when you'd be chatting to them and even off supporters. You try to put it all together as best as you can, then you'd put your own little twist too. That is what I'm trying to do.”
Dealing with significant expectations is something Brigid’s footballers grow accustomed to according to Dolan.
“Since I started playing in 1997 Brigid's have been favourites for every Championship,” Dolan says. “The last 10 years has been very successful for the club. We were probably losing Championships 11 or 12 years ago, I was there myself, you learn from that.
“You try to put it together, to keep it going as long as you can. We aren't stupid, we know this isn't going to last forever. So with the experience you've picked up over the years you try to keep it ticking along. Hopefully it will be good enough on County Final day to win a Championship.”
Brigid’s have been forced to cope with a raft of retirements following recent campaigns, but Dolan is heartened by how an emerging crop of youngsters are faring.
“One thing Eddie and myself did last year was we knew we had to blood new players,” Dolan remarks. “We blooded four or five lads last year. This year, Enon Gavin and Deccie Meehan are with me, we have blooded another four or five players. So I think our panel has got a bit stronger.
“We have lost a couple of very good and experienced players, but the panel is strong. Some lads two or three years ago mightn't have got the opportunity so we have plenty of young lads trying to get in.”
How does Dolan assess the current state of the club game in Roscommon? “From a Brigid's point of view we had a panel of players three, four, or five years ago that was so far ahead of the rest of the county in my opinion,” Dolan replies.
“Since then in the last year or two a lot of that team has retired or moved on. The gap has got closer, definitely it has got closer. You see younger players coming up. Certain clubs have had success at underage at Under 14, 16, minor the likes of Clann na Gael, Strokestown, Boyle, Western Gaels to an extent.
“The standard has got tighter, whether it has improved or not I'm not sure if it has improved greatly. Maybe it has improved slightly overall for clubs at senior level, but it is still down in my opinion compared to some other counties.”
During a glittering career in the green and red of Brigid’s and primrose and blue of Roscommon, Dolan always placed an emphasis on skill and style. Maintaining the standards Brigid’s attained throughout the football fields of Ireland is what Dolan wants to do.