‘Our lads are still mad to play in Leinster final’, says Dempsey

‘Our lads are still mad to play in Leinster final’, says Dempsey

Gerry Buckley

An rud is annamh is iontach.

No doubt the well-educated students in St Joseph’s, Rochfortbridge will be very familiar with that Irish idiom. Truly, what is seldom is wonderful, and these have been a very frustrating few weeks for the senior footballers from the progressive Westmeath school having qualified for their first-ever Leinster ‘A’ final, and then having had that unique opportunity taken away from them – for the moment, certainly – by a matter of days, a little over a month ago as the Covid-19 virus began to take hold in Europe.

However, despite all the understandable doom and gloom in these extremely challenging times, St Joseph’s very experienced manager Luke Dempsey has not given up hope that their eagerly-awaited clash with holders Naas CBS can still be played.

Last Thursday, the long-time Mullingar resident was reasonably upbeat about the situation when he spoke to the Westmeath Examiner.

“The week after we broke up in the school, I rang Noel Delaney (Leinster GAA’s colleges officer) and he was very optimistic that if the quarantine was lifted that the game could still be played,” said Dempsey.

“Coláiste Choilm, Tullamore and Cnoc Mhuire, Granard are in the ‘B’ final and that’s a unique pairing as well. Noel was hopeful that if there was an improvement in the crisis that the two finals could go ahead as a double-header anytime up to the end of July/beginning of August. Basically, we’re living in hope that the match could still be played.”

The ever-amenable Dempsey continued: “There are so many factors involved. We’re living in the world of the unknown at the moment. I think it’s good that the Department of Education have given dates for the Leaving Cert to aim for (the exams are scheduled to start on July 29).

“The best decision is that the exams would go ahead rather than predictive results or any other system. Within that context, if the GAA could get some picture about going back to play matches, maybe our game could still go ahead. I think our government have done a great job and that’s been acknowledged by lots of people.

“As long as we abide by the rules and regulations – and I think most people are abiding – we might see some glimmer of hope as weeks lead into months. I know from the lads involved that if anything could be worked out, they’d be mad to play it. Noel has told me that is the same for Naas CBS and the two teams in the ‘B’ final.”

Obviously, collective training is totally out of the question at this juncture, but the former Westmeath, Carlow and Longford senior manager is delighted that his panellists are trying to retain their sharpness on an individual basis.

“Our lads are on a whatsapp group and they are following a training programme,” Dempsey stated. “They are getting out on their own, within two kilometres of their own houses, to canal lines and anywhere there is a big lawn or a green area. That’s all anybody can do, whether it’s a school team, or a club team, or an inter-county team.

“It’s an unprecedented time and everybody has to stay safe, and make sure that they stay away from the virus. The consequences can be very severe if you get it.”

“It would be awful if the game didn’t go ahead as the lads have been unbeaten all through the school year. They have become great friends and there is great talent in the group. However, in the context of the great tragedies caused by the virus, if it doesn’t go ahead we’ll just have to live with it.

“Realistically, if it can’t be played before the start of the 2020/21 school year, it will never be played, and it will just go down as ‘the Bro Bosco Cup that never was’, the same as you could have ‘the Sam Maguire Cup that never was’.

“Nobody knows what’s going to happen. Hopefully, a cure will be got for this virus. This year has been unprecedented in all our lives.”

Anybody who has seen this particular group of players will be aware of the talent and team spirit which has got them to the pinnacle of provincial success.

“Nobody knows how next year’s team will blend, but this particular team won the Leinster junior ‘B’ two years ago when they could have been in the Leinster ‘A’,” said the former St Loman’s, Mullingar boss. “It could have been a great battle with Coláiste Mhuire, Mullingar (who won the All-Ireland junior ‘A’ title that year).

“The lads have excelled as a senior team this year and played great football along the way,” Dempsey opined.

Should the match eventually go ahead and the boys in sky blue and navy deprive Naas CBS of a Bro Bosco Cup hat-trick, they would become the sixth Lake County school to win the prized silverware.

Only one of those schools – three-time champions Carmelite College Moate in 1976, 1980 and 1981 – has gone on to win the blue riband of colleges football, the Hogan Cup. Dempsey certainly feels that the latter trophy will not be presented in 2020.

“All the schools are part of their own provincial councils, the same as the situation which prevails in the inter-county scene,” Dempsey explained.

“Noel Delaney has been a great support in Leinster, but realistically playing our final is as far as things will go, if we are lucky. There won’t be All-Ireland semi-finals or a final as far as I can see.”

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