Blessington ready to rock ahead of a derby that never looked like happening 1 month ago

Blessington ready to rock ahead of a derby that never looked like happening

Jonathan Daniels found it hard to drag the Blessington boys from the pub when they won the county final because, as a Blessington man, as a man who'd suffered the same as they'd suffered, he didn't want this feeling to end either.

So they did four days on the beer and he let them at it. The famine had gripped them you see and for the best part of the 38 years it lasted, it gripped him. As a player, he'd experienced the hard-luck stories, the disasters and he could write the book about the near misses so when they finally got to the promised land again, even though he calls the shots as team manager, he was never going to spoil the moment acting the bad cop.

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Because this was a feast for all of Blessington.

"Like everyone else, county final celebrations go on into Mondays and Tuesdays but our lads stayed going until Thursday," says Daniels, "and, to be honest, knowing how much it meant to them, and knowing how much it meant to all of us in the management team, I didn't want to be that person to burst that bubble either." he tells SportsJOE.

38 years is a long time in the wilderness.

"I'm with my own club, all my backroom team are volunteers. There's no-one getting paid in our club. We did shed a few tears, of course we did. There were grown men crying, there were a lot of tears. That's because all of the backroom team played senior football for our club and we played throughout those lean years.

"We had massive regrets from our playing days. Did we do enough as players, that kind of thing, so it was always in our minds to do that, to win this championship. Nobody gets paid and it's close to 25 hours and it's a bit of a part-time job but we had no problem putting in that commitment because that's who we are and because that's how much we wanted to win this."

It would have been very easy then for this Blessington management to lose the run of themselves and flog the boys in pursuit of glory but Daniels and his men know the score.

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"We demand a lot from the players when we're together. But we let the lads live their lives outside of football and that's why, the whole way through the year, we pared it right back to Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. No drinking bans, lads can go to weddings, christenings and book staycations or whatever.

"I'm happy because I'm a big believer that a happy footballer is a dangerous footballer."

Blessington are certainly a dangerous team now.

For years, as a team that failed to make the breakthrough, in Wicklow they were seen as a soft-touch that went into their shells when the pressure came on. Through bringing the team together, through bonding sessions and through a gradual process of building a steely belief in the squad, Daniels has landed on a winning formula.

"That's the one thing that would have been questioned, that Blessington would have lacked spirit and belief when it came to those crunch moments in games. Close, not close enough. The whole county of Wicklow would have questioned it and while there's no magic wand, we just worked on it. We did so many things that just helped us along the way.

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Jonathan Daniels in action for Wicklow in the 2007 O'Byrne Cup.

"It was just getting out together. We had a tragedy in the club last year, our full back suffered and he didn't come back this year. We did fundraisers for him, climbing mountains and we went for pints and beers just to bring lads together. We had weekends away, we had a magician in, it was all with the premise of having the craic with the lads, getting them together. Taking lads out of comfort zones.

"The cynics didn't really enjoy it but everyone else loved it."

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Next up is Naas. Half the Blessington team went to school in Naas CBS, a town only 11 kilometres away and with the game on in Newbridge, the place is guaranteed to be absolutely hopping this Sunday. Some of Blessington's club members live in Naas and with the near-neighbours never before having met in the Leinster club football championship, this makes for a fixture they thought might never happen.

"There's a local derby feel to it," says Daniels.

"70% of our lads played with Naas CBS, a lot of the lads played with Naas CBS in the Hogan Cup in Croke Park. Some of our club members live in Naas. They're a super-club, up there with Kilmacud Crokes. It's a huge task for us. We probably didn't plan and prep the way we'd like to for the last game but we're more focused now.

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"That type of 'monkey off the back' pressure is off. There'll be a huge crowd in Newbridge, with a derby feel to it. The lads will come in tonight with a pep in their step because this fixture is such a novelty. There'll be a real championship feel to it. We're enjoying every second of it so far and we're really looking forward to it.

You'd almost be tempted to go to Newbridge yourself.