Shamrocks on the glory trail
By Michael Devlin
In October 2007, Shamrocks were competing in the Offaly Senior Football Final, their second in three years. They had already disposed of champions Rhode and were hot favourites against Tullamore to claim their first ever Dowling Cup.
A relatively new club, Shamrocks were formed in 1994 following an amalgamation of St Carthage’s and Mucklagh. After senior county final defeats by the kick of a ball in 2000 and 2005, they were back in the decider in ’07, but unfortunately it wasn’t to be their third time lucky. Tullamore beat them by a goal.
A precocious Nigel Dunne, just 17 years of age, was playing in forwards that day. He thought Shamrocks would be back knocking on the door for the next few seasons and they would eventually land their first senior title, but it never happened.
“In Winter 2010, 10 lads retired at once. The arse fell out of the thing, and we got relegated in 2011. We’ve been down ever since,” Dunne told GAA.ie. “We’ve a huge parish, biggest in Offaly I think, and there’s kind of an expectancy that we should be up there.”
Victory in the Offaly Senior ‘B’ Championship this year ensured that Shamrocks have returned to the county’s football top table, and they’ve continued that form to march on to the Leinster Intermediate final this Saturday, where they take on Kildare champions Two Mile House.
It’s been a stellar 2018 season for Shamrocks. A thriving dual club in Offaly, they contested both hurling and football Senior ‘B’ finals, unfortunately losing the former to Ballinamere 2-16 to 3-10. They were back in action the following week to make amends by beating Tubber to the football title.
The hectic schedule of going the distance in both Championships, turning out week-in week-out for each code with essentially the same panel, has seen Shamrocks drastically overhaul their training pattern.
“We played 16 weeks running in the Offaly Championships, so we didn’t train in between,” says Dunne, both an Offaly county footballer and hurler, and captain of the Shamrocks footballers. “We met up, recovered, played a match every week, and we only started training properly for football when we won the Championship.
“This year was unprecedented because they changed the format of the championship, but like I said, since we got over Tubber in the county final, we’ve had three or four nights a week of just football, and we’ve come on no end. We’re playing our best football in Leinster, no comparisons to what we were playing in Offaly.
“We haven’t lost a game all year. The last time I lost a football game for Shamrocks is 2017, so it’s been a good year to be the captain of the club. The notion that we’re on a long run, it doesn’t interest us in fairness. We just win every game because that’s the game in front of us. We’re playing game number 13 now on Saturday and that’s all that matters to us, we’re looking to win that.”
After that mass retirement in late 2010 and the resulting demotion, Shamrocks needed a new generation to come up through the ranks and revive the squad. It came in the form of the 2013 minor team, who the club’s first and only Minor ‘A’ Championship before going on to win Leinster.
“11 of our starting 15 are under 23 years of age,” says Dunne. “As opposed to my age group, I’m 28 now, we would have had a little bit of success, but these guys, all they’ve ever done is won.
“They’re coming up now, and they are kind of expecting to win. It’s bordering on arrogance, but it’s still just confidence, it’s brilliant. They don’t get too hyped up about things, they just go out and play football. It’s a breath of fresh air.
“The fact that there’s 11 of them is a huge amount, and you’d imagine with all of them coming into the team at once it might upset things, but it’s been absolutely brilliant.
“The four or five of us that are on the team, we’ve all inter-county experience, so it is a good mixture, there’s no point saying otherwise. I’d give the youth the credit in re-energising everything around the place.
“90 per cent of it’s in the head. If you believe you can do it, you can do it, and our guys never doubt themselves. We’ve reaped the rewards, and hopefully it can continue.”
The build-up to Saturday has been very level-headed according to Dunne. Over-analysing, scrutinising and speculating about Two Mile House hasn’t been a part of their preparation, and instead they’ve been adhering to the old adage of focusing on themselves.
“It’s been really relaxed, so relaxed we took the weekend off and just had a recovery session. In fairness to the manager and the players, it’s been a really mature approach, we’re not getting too carried away with anything.
“There’s been no talk of Two Mile House, no talk of a final. The club’s never been here and it’s very low-key, but there’s still a huge air of confidence around the place. We’re not going to make up numbers, we’re going to win.
“Our approach isn’t really to focus on who we’re playing. Peter Kelly there is an All-Star, they have Chris Healy up front, we know they’ve good players and have won an All-Ireland at Junior a few years ago. But what does it all matter? We’re going to go out and play them and it’s going to be about who takes the first step back.
“It’s 15-on-15, it doesn’t matter how much you know about them or what you don’t know about them. They’re not too bad of a side if they’ve got to a Leinster Intermediate final!”
All around the country in the past few weeks, clubs have been tasting their own provincial glory. The celebratory scenes coming out each final serve as stirring reminders to each player who pulls on a club jersey as to why they do it all in the first place. Why they make the sacrifices and commitment and put in the hard slog in the early months of the year - to be there at the business end, still in with a shot of glory.
“I’d never complain about playing football in December, it’s class,” reflects Dunne. “It’s what you want, and every year you’re looking on thinking, “We could be there, _if_ we did this, _if_ we did that”. We’re here now, so let’s go.”