Baltinglass back to renew glorious legacy
Wicklow legend Kevin O’Brien remembers his club’s good times in the 1990s and hopes that they may be about to roll again
Twenty three years ago yesterday, Kevin O’Brien left on an early morning plane for the long-haul journey to Australia and a successful international rules series. He has a strong identification with the game, having been one of Ireland’s star turns in 1990 before going on to be the only footballer to still be around when the series resumed eight years later under the official auspices of the GAA and AFL.
He also served as a selector the last time the series was played in Ireland and says he would regret it if the whole concept doesn’t recover from its current lull.
“It’s a great memory, standing to attention for the anthem in Australia with an arm around Bernie Flynn. It was great to be in that sort of company and I’d be very sorry if the internationals were to be discontinued. I think they’re a great experience especially for players from counties like Wicklow, who don’t get much opportunity on the big stage.”
It is, however, just one of a selection of extraordinary memories from 1990. At the end of the year, he won an All Star and nine months previously was on the Baltinglass side that won Wicklow’s only senior All-Ireland, defeating Roscommon’s Clan na nGael in the final.
He says that the appetite for that level of success was relatively new in the county and Baltinglass, who on Sunday face Rathnew in this year’s county final, were effectively pioneers for the county.
“We were going really well. The Leinster championship was never that important in Wicklow until 1985 when we lost the final to Portlaoise. We were knocking on the door after that and won eight-in-a-row in the county and the All-Ireland with much the same group of players.
“We were a good group of lads and developed great relationships and most of us are still involved doing bits and pieces for the club. We had tremendous battles with Dublin clubs, Thomas Davis in particular. You were nearly always marking the same lad and we developed a tremendous relationship. Some of the Davis lads will come along on Sunday, for instance.”
One of them will definitely be there. Gary Kilmartin played for Thomas Davis in those famous clashes with Baltinglass but on Sunday he will be training his erstwhile rivals - they met in the Leinster finals of 1989 and ‘90 - and now lives in Blessington. Manager Brian Heaslip, another Dubliner now resident in Wicklow, is a Baltinglass resident.
“The population has grown and a lot of people have moved from Dublin,” says O’Brien, “and you’re seeing that in under-age from under-eights to under-14. The average age of Sunday’s team is 23 or 24 and a lot came through with successful minor teams.
“We’ve worked hard with the schools. In the vocational school in Baltinglass Scoil Chonglais we’ve tried to provide a coach for each manager because clubs have to be more active these days; schools aren’t able to do it all any more. The national schools are in great shape.”
Among those working in the schools under Kevin O’Brien’s supervision is his son Seán, a member of Sunday’s panel, and James Sheerin, centrefielder on the team. Sunday means a lot because the club has managed just one title, 2007, since the heyday ended 19 years ago and in the meantime Rathnew managed to equal their sequence of successive county championships.