Sean McDermotts hero exits senior stage with medals and memories

Sean McDermotts hero exits senior stage with medals and memories

Sunday October 5: the watch is racing towards five o’clock. A third titanic tussle of 2014 between two old foes is reaching its climax.

Fifteen minutes from time the decisive moment comes. Eamon Hanlon emerges in front of goal to slot home a winner, bringing the Warwickshire Senior Football Championship back to Sean McDermotts, who had relinquished it a year earlier to John Mitchels in a similarly gripping encounter.

For some of the younger players on the McDermotts panel, victory would herald a new experience — for Joe Dowling it was almost routine.

Since his first game for the club back in 1990 until that victory in October, Dowling has amassed 67 senior honours spanning a quarter of a century. Those titles include 15 Senior Football Championships, 15 Senior Football Leagues, 15 Fr Forde Cups, four All-Britain titles with Warwickshire, and a landmark All-Ireland junior sevens title secured with McDermotts back in September.

The success in Dublin provides one of the highlights. “We were basically off the plane and thrown straight into it,” Dowling fondly recalls. “That first game we played was against a very good team from Kerry (Keel). We lost that match but as the day went on we just got stronger and stronger.

"The Irish clubs told us how impressed they were with us. We hadn’t gone over just to make the numbers up and then we got through to play the final against Naomh Padraig of Donegal. We beat them convincingly.” A scoreline of 4-8 to 0-5 ensured Dowling’s side were bringing All-Ireland medals back to Birmingham.

Two other moments, one at the start and one at the end of his playing career, rank high in the memory. “I’d say that my first Warwickshire title in 1995 is right up there — it had been a good few years since Macs had won the title and it was a long time to have to wait before winning one again. Winning back the championship last year was a big one too, that was the first one we had won since losing Coley Folan.”

Over the years it was playing alongside the likes of the late Coley Folan, Ossie Bennett and Dave Lyons that Dowling made his mark as he cemented his position in the McDermotts half-back line.

Playing St Finbarrs at Holbrooks was his first experience of football all those years ago, a real taster when you had names like Carr, Timmins and Crowley facing you on a Coventry pitch. Five years down the line came the first taste of championship silverware.

Back in the Autumn of 1995, Steve Collins became world champion at super-middleweight, the Dubs claimed their first All-Ireland for a generation while Clare celebrated their first hurling crown in more than 80 years; and down at Pairc na hÉireann Sean McDermotts squared off against their big rivals St Brendan’s to end a drought of their own: “I remember that game being played in really bad conditions, it was really low-scoring but then Nigel O’Connor fisted a goal in the last couple of minutes.

“That Brendan’s team was a tough outfit and they had some great players but our manager Edmund Meeghan had really turned things around for us. We beat a hard Glen Rovers team and St Peter’s from Manchester to get to the British senior final. We played against Tara’s and put everything into that game, but lost in the end by just two points.”

That disappointment of coming so close in 1995 is mirrored in some of his adventures with the Warwickshire county team over the years.

“The nature of the county team means that whoever turns up depends on who the manager is. Looking back we could have had stronger teams in the past but even so we ran counties in Ireland close on a few occasions. We played Mayo back in the mid-90s and came very close to turning them over only for their fitness to tell in the end and it was the same when we played Roscommon.

“It’s always felt like Warwickshire has been more interested in hurling than football at county level — I remember going to play Galway with Warwickshire without any kit, we ended up having to play in T-shirts and getting beat in a one-sided game.

“Still, you look at the players available now and we look to have a strong panel again with plenty of English-born lads. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be challenging the likes of Lancashire.”

When it boils down to it though, it’s the club which means the most. “It’s all about the club for me. We’re well looked after at McDermotts and I’ve made great friends there over the years. Playing with my three nephews was a good feeling last year and one of the good things about Macs is that we’ve got plenty of English-born youngsters coming through. When you look at John Mitchels (Liverpool) they will be playing an All-Ireland final, but there is not a massive gulf between us.

“With a bit more commitment and a bit more belief there’s an All-Britain title there for them. It’s good that there is more competition now in Warwickshire, especially with the likes of Mitchels, as it boosts the level of football overall and helps to bring our players on.”

Nonetheless, it’s been quite a career at the heart of the McDermotts club since the early ’90s. “I’ve played with and against some great players along the way: Keith Sweeney, Coley and Ossie spring to mind as well as Dave Lyons and players like (current London manager) Paul Coggins — we had some great games over the years with Tir Chonaill Gaels, who never got it easy against us.

"And of course not to forget that my wife Michelle has done so much for both myself and the club to bring us to where we are now. I’m still hoping to keep playing a little bit at junior level, it all depends on how the legs go, maybe even manage the senior team one day down the line — you never say never!”

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