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Young Irelands Cian O’Niaraigh pictured ahead of the AIB Leinster Junior Club Football Final.
Young Irelands Cian O’Niaraigh pictured ahead of the AIB Leinster Junior Club Football Final.

O’Niaraigh still learning valuable lessons

By Eoghan Tuohey

Regardless of the victor in Saturday’s Leinster Junior Club Football Final, it will be a novel outcome and an historic day for either Dundalk Young Ireland’s or St. Brigid’s of Offaly.

Meath, Dublin, Westmeath, Kildare and Laois clubs have dominated the competition for a large proportion of the new millennium, with Young Ireland’s aiming to assume the mantle of the first Wee County representatives to claim the title, and St. Brigid’s seeking to become only the second Offaly champions to secure the Junior provincial crown since the competitions inauguration, after Clara in 1999.

Young Ireland’s are captained by schoolteacher, Cian O’Niaraigh, and the influential half-back, who is known for his penetrating runs, often chipping in with a score or two per game, is relishing this time, as it’s the club’s first foray beyond the provincial championship first round.

“This is actually our first time getting past the first round of the Leinster Championship. I remember when we were in Intermediate before, and even the Junior before that, in 2010 and 2008, struggling to get through the first round.

“We probably didn’t appreciate the competition for what it was and what we’ve come to realise about the competition, we might’ve felt before that we were in bonus territory at that stage, I think that’s why the first round game is the most important, if you can get through that, you nearly feel that rather than it being the end of one season and a bonus game at the end of one season, it’s the beginning of a new one. That’s the way we’ve approached this campaign, we’re enjoying it for what it is. You start off with the first game where you have nothing to lose, but now we’re at the stage where we have everything to gain.”

They are a club in a populous town, but one where they must scavenge for resources with other rivals, and so their actual playing population is relatively small. Yet, the club has a storied history, and with three county titles since 2007 at different levels, they are beginning to regain some belief, and are now comfortable setting their sights on the major prizes.

“Our manager, Adrian O’Donoghue, has tried to instil belief in ourselves. It’s not arrogance or overconfidence, but just the belief that we can keep on going and if there’s a competition to be won, we can win it.

Cian O’Niaraigh, Young Irelands, and Cian Donohue, St Brigid's will collide in Saturday's AIB Leinster Junior Club Football Final.
Cian O’Niaraigh, Young Irelands, and Cian Donohue, St Brigid's will collide in Saturday's AIB Leinster Junior Club Football Final.

“That comes down to our belief of winning every game as it comes, that’s how we’ve went about this season, we had a disappointing season last year, we were relegated from Intermediate League and Championship, so this year was about building that belief up again, and game on game, we’ve went through the season and improved.

“Adrian talked about Leinster championships and All-Irelands, those kind of things at the beginning of the championship. You don’t know if he’s trying to rile you up and get you going, or trying to get lads to go training, but, it turns out, these things are possible and it’s a fantastic time to be around the club.

“Louth teams would have historically done fairly well at the Intermediate level, but, you know, these things about being the first to achieve these things, to be honest, we don’t really get into that mind-set too much, this is our opportunity and our time, it would be great for the county as well. We’re getting a huge amount of support from all the other clubs in the county.”

The distinctive black and green coloured side have had an impressive campaign. They overcame Glyde Rangers in a dour, low-scoring affair in the county final by one point. Yet what this game lacked in entertainment value, it made up for with its unifying effect. Their captain believes that to emerge victorious from that encounter required a mental steeliness, one that has benefitted the squad hugely, reinvigorated the club after their relegation last season, and instilled a feel good factor that keeps building momentum as they continue to advance.

Following on from their county triumph, they have dismissed the challenge of the Laois, Westmeath and Kilkenny champions to set up a final date with St. Brigid’s.

“Mentally, they’re the toughest type of game,” he admits. “We’ve shown a lot of mental toughness this year, one point is enough, and whatever stage the game is at. If we’re one point ahead at the end, that’s all that matters. In that county final, conditions had a massive part to play in it, nerves had a lot to do with it as well, for both sides. But, I’d like to think for the neutral supporter that they’d see more scores than that this weekend, but as long as we come out ahead that’s all that matters to us.

“There’s a huge buzz, every two weeks you’re getting these days out. I think we’d over 70 people coming down to New Ross to see the semi-final. You know, three and a half to a four hour journey, it’s incredible to see people coming down.

“The clubs around Dundalk have been massively supportive of our efforts. When you get to this level and you’re representing your county, being here on days like today, it’s important that the county be represented at this level.”

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