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'There Were Tears Of Joy In People's Faces That I've Known For 20-Odd Years'

'There Were Tears Of Joy In People's Faces That I've Known For 20-Odd Years'
By PJ Browne Updated

History has weighed on the shoulders of this group of Éire Óg players, with good reason too: During the 90s, the Carlow club won five Leinster championships and played in two All-Ireland finals. Only St Vincent's and Portlaoise have won more Leinster titles.

This weekend, for the first time in 21 years, the Carlow Town side will play in the Leinster decider. Dublin champions Ballyboden St Enda's are their opponents.

"We were expecting to put it up to Portlaoise," says Éire Óg's Seán Gannon about their semi-final win, "but I suppose never getting to a final before with this generation of players you'd be kind of going, 'Jesus, can we do it?'

"But once we got over the line it was a sense of relief more than anything. The tears of joy in people's faces that I've known for 20-odd years and I've never seen them get emotional. After the game it was mad scenes, it was fantastic."

The panel features players whose fathers were part of the 1990s Éire Óg teams. Despite their success, they never piled the pressure on. The only burden which the modern breed felt was the one they put on themselves.

"In '98, I was 10," says Gannon.

"I just remember going on the buses and the excitement of it.

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"I probably didn't really appreciate it at the time, I was young. My mother used to bring me, I just remember goals - they used to always score goals and the roar, it was different to the points.

"I didn't really know what was going on I suppose but I remember travelling to Newbridge so often. You'd go down to Newbridge nearly every weekend, with replays and everything. I've fond memories of it."

Éire Óg and Carlow footballer Sean Gannon is pictured ahead of the AIB Leinster Senior Football Club Championship Final where they face Ballyboden St. Endas of Dublin on Sunday December 8th. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

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The emotion which erupted after beating Portlaoise last month was not solely due to the club returning to where they believe they belong. It also helped erase the memory of last year's semi-final defeat when scored just three points and went down by 18 to Mullinalaghta. Éire Óg felt bullied that day. It was an experience they did not want to relive.

"An awful lot of lads have been doing their own stuff," says Gannon.

It’s six days a week we’re training now. Three days collectively, and you’re getting to the gym three times, which has been unheard of. It wasn’t going on.

So we’ve bulked up and lads are bigger. It’s helping us deal with that physical factor that was lacking last year.

It’s all player led. We’re just going ourselves. I suppose the county lads coming back, they’re just in that mind-frame anyway. They do their stuff.

Darragh O’Brien for example would be very good at it. It’s just throwing into the WhatsApp group, ‘lads I’m heading to the gym there now, anyone around?’ And then a couple of lads would tag along. It’s started that way and now you’re talking 20-odd lads.

That extra physicality is an element they will require against Ballyboden, a team Garrycastle's Dessie Dolan described as "chesty" when they met in the semi-final.

"Yeah, I listened to that interview with Dessie, and he couldn’t get over how powerful they were," says Gannon.

"I suppose it’s one thing that we pride ourselves on: that we’re a powerful, big outfit as well. Probably not to that extent. They’re probably physically a couple of years ahead of us.

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"So be it. That’s fine. We have other ways of getting around it. But it will be interesting.

"We played them earlier on in the year and we had a great old, midweek challenge game - I think it was in the summer. I think it might have been when Dublin finished their Leinster, maybe it was the All-Ireland final time.

"They were missing a couple and we were missing a couple. But we clashed horns. And it was a great battle.

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"It was a draw in the end. But again, come the end of the game, everyone brought on everyone. It was very competitive for the first 50-odd minutes or so. We know what the level is, we know the speed of the game."

The past few weeks have been exciting ones for Carlow clubs. Over the weekend, St Mullins played in their first ever Leinster hurling final, going down to All-Ireland champions Ballyhale Shamrocks. The Éire Óg players attended all the stops on the Mullins adventure.

"There is a huge buzz," says Gannon.

"I've received an awful lot of texts. From every other club, I've received one from someone, which is kind of unheard of.

"There's a huge rivalry between clubs in Carlow, and it's healthy and it's great. Maybe it came from the Mount Leinster teams, and the O'Hanrahans teams, and the Éire Óg teams that won before; everyone just gets in behind you."

AIB is in its 29th year sponsoring the GAA Club Championship and is delighted to continue to support the Junior, Intermediate and Senior Championships across football, hurling and camogie. For exclusive content and behind the scenes action throughout the AIB GAA and Camogie Club Championships follow AIB GAA on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat.

Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

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