By Damian Dolan
Oisin manager Killian Gavaghan won’t hear talk of five-in-a-rows. Naturally enough, the Manchester club would like the chance to savour their recent victory in the delayed 2020 Lancashire senior football championship final before attention turns to 2021.
Their 2-11 to 2-6 victory over St Brendan’s at Old Bedian’s gave Oisin its first-ever four-in-a-row – a feat achieved only three times previously.
Fellow Manchester club Brendan’s have done it twice (1983-86 and 1988-91), and John Mitchel’s of Liverpool once (2013-16).
So when this year’s championship does get underway, Oisin will be going for an unprecedented five consecutive senior titles, and Mitchel’s and Brendan’s are sure to be hell-bent on stopping them.
“They definitely will, but that’s good – that’s the competition you need,” says Oisin’s Sligo-native manager Killian Gavaghan – a first cousin of London and Tir Chonaill Gaels captain Liam Gavaghan.
He adds: “We would never be thinking or talking about that kind of stuff (five-in-a-row).
“I know it’s a cliché, but we don’t think about that because you can never plan when you’re an England-based club.
“We don’t have homegrown players – we’ve only one, Paul Noone our goalkeeper – so things can change.
“It doesn’t take a lot to go from winning championships, to losing them and dropping off altogether.”
When they completed the three-in-a-row in 2019, it was the first time the club had achieved that milestone.
That the club was able to extend its winning sequence to four is down to a core group of players, says Gavaghan, who’ve been around long enough to also know what it feels like to lose a county final.
“It’s (winning four-in-a-row) a great achievement. What’s helped is we’ve a really strong core of about ten players who’ve been around Oisin for about six or seven years,” he said.
That “spine” includes the likes of Niall Donnelly, Gerry McCaughey, Declan O’Hagan, PJ Magee and Thomas Finlay.
Twice Oisin lost out to John Mitchel’s in the final when the Liverpool side was in its pomp.
“Four years ago, the big thing for this group of players was just to win a Lancashire title,” says Gavaghan, who is in his second year as manager having been coach/selector under Declan O’Hagan.
First things first, Oisin needed to break the “stranglehold” that Mitchel’s had on the Lancashire senior championship – the Liverpool side annexed seven titles in nine years between 2007 and 2016.
“There was a perception Mitchel’s were going to win it every year,” he adds.
Victory over Brendan’s also gave Oisin’s their 16th senior Lancashire title since the club was formed in 1904, and takes them to within two of Brendan’s (18). Mitchel’s have won it 12 times in all.
Oisin led St Brendan’s by five at the break (1-7 to 1-2), only for their opponents to rattle off 1-2 at the start of the second half to draw level.
But while Brendan’s were looking for a first senior title since 1996, Oisin had players who’d been there, seen it and done it.
“Brendan’s put up a massive fight and were probably fitter than us, but we played smarter football. They put a big squeeze on us and it was just a case of us keeping the ball,” said Gavaghan.
“We had two very good inside forwards in Niall Donnelly and Tiernan O’Hagan, and they mopped up. They won everything out in front.
“Our game plan was to just get the ball inside as quick as possible.”
Brendan’s kept coming at Oisin in “waves and waves” but it was Oisin’s experience that saw them over the line says Gavaghan.
Declan O’Hagan played county for Antrim, Tiernan O’Hagan played Under 21 for Tyrone, Gerry McCaughey won an All Ireland Minor with Tyrone, and Niall Donnelly played Minor for Tyrone.
Ryan Elliott played senior for London and won a senior London county title with Tir Chonaill Gaels in 2018, coming off the bench in the club’s replay win over Fulham Irish to score three points from play that swung the final.
He sat out 2019 after suffering ACL and MCL knee ligament damage in London’s challenge match with Dublin, before moving to Manchester.
A corner forward for TCG and London, Gavaghan has “converted” Elliott to a midfielder.
“He played really, really well for us. His pace around the middle is unbelievable. Get him on the ball, breaking the line going forwards,” said Gavaghan.
Elliott isn’t the only player on the Oisin team to have previously won a senior title in London – 38-year-old forward Dave Hernon was on the Tara team which defeated Kingdom Kerry Gaels in the 2003 final.
The team’s “real trump card”, though, is its goalkeeper Paul Noone. One of those to now have four senior winner’s medals, Noone’s father is from Galway and also played for the club.
“Before becoming a goalkeeper, Paul played full forward and midfield for three or four years,” says Gavaghan.
“So because he’s played outfield, he has the ability to drive the ball off the tee 40 yards, or he can go short, or come out and play as an extra defender.”
Now the dominant force in Lancashire, the All-Britain junior club championship has yet to see the best of this Oisin team.
While Oisin were striving to win a first county championship since 2006, John Mitchel’s were winning All-Britain titles in 2015, 2014, 2013, 2008 and 2007, as well as finishing as runners up in 2016, 2011 and 2009.
Neasden Gaels ended Oisin’s involvement in the competition in 2018, while they went out to eventual champions Thomas McCurtains in 2019.
The All-Britain is one that Oisin have not made a mark on since losing to Fulham Irish in the 2006 decider.
In 1994 the club lost the final on the pitch to Warwickshire’s St Brendan’s only to then be awarded the title after Brendan’s fielded an ineligible player.
However, in Manchester, competition for new players is fierce, with Oisin vying for new arrivals with St Peter’s, St Lawrence’s and St Brendan’s.
“We probably should have had one in us, but the All-Britain is quite competitive,” said Gavaghan.
It remains on the club’s to-do list, however, as a competition Oisin have unfinished business with.
In order to do that, they must first complete the five-in-a-row. The 2021 senior title race will start soon enough – little chance therefore for Oisin to rest on their laurels.
Getting the “hunger” back will be the biggest challenge for Oisin, says Gavaghan, and bringing in a few new faces is key to that.
“You need new players to replenish the squad and keep the enthusiasm going. That’s going to be the biggest issue for us, our core players aren’t getting any younger,” he said.
It all sets the 2021 Lancashire senior title race up very nicely indeed.
Osin Team vs St Brendan’s: Paul Noone; Declan Rooney, Michael Conmey, Aodhan Byrne; Luke McAllister, Ryan Elliott (0-1), Shane O’Donovan; Niall Donnelly (0-3), Thomas Finlay; David Hernon, Kevin MacPhee (1-1), Declan O’Hagan; Gerry McCaughey (1-1), Harry Harden (0-2), Tiernan O’Hagan (0-3). Subs: Mick Lavelle for Finlay, PJ Magee for Hernon, Conor Morrissey for MacPhee, Chris O’Connor for McCaughey.
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