Luke Dempsey enjoying managerial merry-go-round
St Loman’s boss has amassed 23 years experience – not out – at county or club level
Luke Dempsey: “Whoever wins on Sunday, it will bring that club on leaps and bounds, and whoever loses, it’s a marvellous occasion to have got there.” Photograph: Tommy Grealy/Inpho
Luke Dempsey very quickly runs out of fingers when counting his years in football management. It’s what happens when you’ve enjoyed all 23 of them, all uninterrupted, and still are in the thick of them.
Is this a record? Nine years with Westmeath, including minor and under-21 level, during both of which he won an All-Ireland; an interim year in Carlow then four years in Longford, followed by another four years in Carlow; then two years with Kildare club Moorefield, now three years already with St Loman’s in Mullingar.
“Purely by default,” Dempsey promptly points out. “Not design. I never asked for this. I felt maybe I was ready for a break after Carlow, then Moorefield invited me in, and I’d loved my time playing club football in Kildare, so that was an opportunity to go back.
“Then St Loman’s opened up, and if they weren’t in the town of Mullingar I wouldn’t have gone anywhere else. I’m five minutes from the club car park. It’s still flying by, and I’m still enjoying every minute of it.”
It helps that Dempsey’s football record precedes him: those two years with Moorefield both resulted in county titles; he’s just put three Westmeath titles back-to-back with St Loman’s, and with that taken them to Sunday’s AIB Leinster club final in Portlaoise, where – in that great GAA tradition – they’ll play Moorefield.
St Loman’s have never won a Leinster title, Moorefield triumphed in 2006, and that just adds to Dempsey’s continuing enthusiasm for the game.
“I’d much prefer to be going to Portlaoise nervous and tense, than sitting at home watching someone else play Moorefield. It’s a great novelty, a great opportunity for this club, and players like our captain John Heslin, who puts his heart and soul into Westmeath football, and Paul Sharry too.
“You can’t get sentimental, and I enjoyed my time in Moorefield. Ross Glavin was my captain when I was there, I recognised his leadership, so it’s no surprise he’s now the Moorefield manager. And a nicer gentleman you won’t meet. The club championship still has that joy, it’s a great competition.
“And you never lose the enjoyment of meeting new people. Inter-county management has changed so much now, I feel the role of the actual manager is watered down. I love all the business of planning and coaching and the sessions, and I got that back with Moorefield. The club is more hands-on, the game plans, coaching and tactics, man-management skills, all of that. To me that’s what it’s all about.
“At county level, there’s nearly too many people involved. Of course it helps when it’s going well, and you have to be able to take the good with the bad.”
Sunday’s showdown hadn’t been anticipated by many at the start of the competition, especially with Dublin champions St Vincent’s in the mix. Then the Wicklow champions took them out in the quarter-final in Aughrim, and suddenly opportunities began to emerge.
“To be honest, I thought Ballymun would win the Dublin championship,” says Dempsey. “I felt St Vincent’s looked a bit tired, and I think Rathnew just pulled out all the stops. Of course they did us all a favour, that’s being realistic. At their peak St Vincent’s would beat some county teams. So taking them out certainly levelled it up a bit, gave everyone else a pep in their step.
“Getting to the Leinster final was never part of the master plan. The plan is to win a county title. I think this year, when you looked at the draw and saw the Dublin champions weren’t on our side, and our panel were maturing over the previous two years, so it was more of a reality that we might do better in the province too. To win three county titles in a row certainly brings some maturity to the team.
“It was a building process for year one, when we won the first title. It was a resumption of that in year two. And this year, the younger players maturing, the likes of Sean Flanagan and Ronan O’Toole and Neil O’Toole.
“And I think there was an aspiration among the players to do better, and they really knuckled down for that semi-final win over Simonstown. So it has been a great journey, but the players took on a lot of the responsibility too, the leadership. Whoever wins on Sunday, it will bring that club on leaps and bounds, and whoever loses, it’s a marvellous occasion to have got there.”
Luke Dempsey’s 23-year managerial record:
1995/’96: Westmeath Minor
1997/’98/’99/2000: Westmeath Under-21
2001/’02/’03: Westmeath senior
2004: Carlow senior (on interim basis)
2005/’06/’07/’08; Longford senior
2009/’10/’11/’12: Carlow senior
2013/’14 Moorefield club
2015/’16/’17: St Loman’s club