Year zero. The first year of the new regime.
As any manager will tell you, the first year is all about consolidation and basically not mucking things up. Creep through the season without causing controversy and preparing for a more inspiring year two.
For O’Connell’s boss Wayne McKeever year one has been a fairytale. Yet, even he admits that back in January his goals were a lot lower.
“At the start of the year, being my first as manager, the main thing I wanted was to stay up in Division One of the league. Obviously any manager will tell you that and then the plan was to build on that.”
However, the Castlebellingham club had a fantastic league campaign and it was the catalyst for much of what followed.
“We had a great league campaign”, explained McKeever. “The hardest thing was trying to bring our great league form into the championship. But we finally got that monkey off our backs with that win against the Joes in the semi final. It gave the lads a lot of confidence.”
But like any good fairytale, there has to be a certain amount of darkness. That darkness arrived on day one of the county championship against St Brides.
“When I look back to the day we were beaten by the Brides in the championship in the Clans pitch, we only scored four points the whole game. I was thinking ‘where do we go from here?’ it was unbelievable, we had men sent off for arguing.”
But there had to be some positivity to take from it.
“But after that people said ‘well you’re probably better getting that out of the way now and moving on’.”
Kildare champions Monasterevin travel to Drogheda on Sunday for the Leinster final. Nominally it’s a home tie for O’Connell’s, but no matter where the game is played, it makes little difference to McKeever.
“I don’t think it has any bearing on it. At this stage of the game we just want to get in and get the trophy. I couldn’t care where it is. Drogheda has been good enough for Louth for the past number of years.
“Obviously we would have liked to have it in The Grove, but it was a bit of a long shot. We did everything right and got a great report from Leinster for the Semi final. But fair is fair, it’s in the County grounds and you have to respect that”, added the O’Connell’s boss.
McKeever sees similarities between the two sides.
“I was doing a bit of homework on Monasterevin. I was reading the reports of their games in the championship and Leinster as well and they are scoring pretty heavily too. They appear to come out of the blocks quickly. It should be a dinger of a game.
“I think both sides are evenly matched. I suppose whoever is hungry enough on the day will win it.”
The semi final against Na Fianna was arguably the toughest game the Castlebellingham men have faced in the championship this year.
“We knew we’d be up against with Na Fianna. I think they only drew one game the whole year and they had a powerful midfield with the two Queeney lads.
“And up front they were very handy. It was an unbelievable game and it was great to have it in The Grove to give us that wee bit of an edge.”
A great start that day was undone in the latter stages of the first half as Na Fianna powered into the lead. That mid game slump will need to be ironed out come Sunday.
“They led by two then, a ten point turnaround. It was shocking from our point of view. We’ll not get away with it on Sunday against Monasterevin.
“But saying that Na Fianna never pulled away from us. There was just one kick of the ball in it and we always knew we had a chance, even when we went down to fourteen men. We decided to throw Mark (Stanfield) in the square and tried to bomb the ball into him and it paid off in the end.”
It’s nearly twelve months since pre-season began for O’Connell’s, surely fatigue is a big problem now?
“There’s still that drive there believe it or not”, stated mcKeever. “This week we stayed off the grass which is why we went out to Dealgan Boxing Club for some circuit training, which we did earlier in the year.
“At this time of the year the ground is getting very soft and you want to keep the lads as fresh as possible and work on other aspects of their fitness. The last number of weeks it’s all been ball work and speed. This week will be all upper body training and core work.”
Although Castlebellingham is alive with championship glory this year, it’s not before time according to McKeever.
“I always knew it was in the club. It should happened fifteen years ago with the crop of players that came through then. I was just lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to take over.”
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