Today’s Integral Leisure and Fitness Junior Championship Final pits many people’s two favourites against each other, with the chance of claiming the Christy Bellew trophy and a place in the intermediate championship at stake.
On one side you have the men from Tullyallen – Glen Emmets – who recently lifted the junior championship title in 2012. Yet by his own admission neither boss Brian Lynch, nor the club, were prepared for life at intermediate level the following year. Lynch and his Glen Emmets side were merely riding the crest of their Christy Bellew success from the previous year and to most outsiders looked like cannon fodder for the big guns.
He quickly realised how tough Louth’s second tier is though. Drawn against 2013’s eventual winners Geraldines (beaten by six goals and seventeen points) and finalists St Brides (another four goals and ten points) in the group stage was a tough ask for any side at that level, more so for the fresh meat.
Reflecting on it now ahead of today’s clash, Lynch is honest in his assessment.
“We just weren’t prepared. We didn’t have a plan and a programme in place and then to be drawn in the same group as the finalists didn’t give us much of a chance.
“I feel if we could have even won one game we might have clung on and been able to build at that level. But it just didn’t happen”, he sighs.
Lessons have been learned though. This year has seen a more focused and detailed plan in place. A plan which takes into account the possibility of intermediate football in 12 months time. The Tullyallen side have a second chance and they won’t be found wanting this time around. Hard work and solid foundations have been in place since late last year.
Over on the Slane Road, Oliver Plunketts have been the favorites for the junior title for three years now. They’ll be hoping 2014 is the year that sees them back at intermediate.
Captain Sean Brassil has been nearly a decade involved with the Plunketts senior side. A period of great pain and just the odd glimmer of success for the Slane Road side – mostly pain though.
In 2005 Plunketts were competing in the quarter finals of the senior championship. They lost out to eventual Joe Ward winners Mattock Rangers.
An awful lot has changed since then.
Successive relegations from senior championship (2006) down to intermediate and then three years ago right down to junior. A downward spiral with little to lift the heart.
2010 was an admittedly brighter year. Promotion to division one in the league was a stand out and reaching the knock out stages of the intermediate championship capped a decent year.
The following year, though, saw controversy reign supreme at the Slane Road club. 2011 had began rather well with Oliver Plunketts relishing senior league football and clashing with the likes of St Patrick’s, Cooley and Newtown Blues. They even managed to stay up come the end of the campaign.
Then it quickly descended into farce as, following an investigation into a match with Naomh Fionnbarra, in which the floodlights failed, Oliver Plunketts were relegated to the junior championship. Even now little is mentioned of the events of that evening. The club has limped on since. A sleeping giant stumbling around the wastelands of junior football.
Brassil has been there through it all. The one constant during a period of great upheaval. His position as captain is a given at this stage.
But 2014 gives Brassil and Plunketts a chance to draw a line under all that has happened and look forwards as opposed to backwards from now on.
This match will likely be the most competitive in the junior championship this year. Which is something all can look forward to at Stabannon today.