saturday night live
Whitehall icon Anto Holly predicts a Dublin versus Tyrone HQ showstopper
THE new Whitehall pitch is only around the corner. The faithful can't wait.
They include Anto Holly. He was a Colmcille Cub. Now he's an adult still steeped in the red and white.
"I love the club. It is such a big part of my life," he says.
He made his senior football debut at 17. He played senior football for Whitehall Colmcille for 13 years.
He met some legends along the road. Former Dublin senior footballers Declan McGrath and Paul Clarke were among them.
He appreciates their input. "They helped me so much. They drove me on."
He also hails the influence of another former Dub, the lion-hearted defender, Paddy Moran.
"I think Paddy is the footballer every kid should try to be.
"He gave it his all and he was such a good man to have in the dressing-room, especially when players might be nervous.
"Paddy was able to take the tension away with a funny remark."
Then there was Brian Talty. When their paths cross, there is always time for warm words.
"Talts taught me so much. And then many a time, I went into battle against him!" smiles Anto.
He spent time in the Whitehall dugout alongside the manager, Paddy Canning.
"I enjoyed it. I have such respect for that man. He is a legend of Dublin football.
"He brings such knowledge to it. There's not a player in the county that he doesn't know."
Anto was a fine footballer himself. He played for the Dubs at minor, U21 and senior level.
Every time he put on the boots, he, just like Paddy Moran, left nothing out there.
Back in 1999, he lost the All-Ireland Minor Championship semi-final to Down after a replay.
He was three years with the udner-21s. In his third season, they lost the All-Ireland final to Galway.
The call came from Tommy Carr. He felt privileged to wear the blue.
Injury rang his bell. And now he misses the smell of the winter-green.
But the Saturday night buzz of Croke Park brings much consolation.
Anto will take his place in the choir this Saturday night for the visit of Tyrone.
He'll be applauding the arrival of the great Mickey Harte.
"He's a remarkable man, and he just keeps going. He has such enthusiasm. He's bringing in young players and he's building yet another team. It's a wonderful tribute to him. I think they will have a good summer. They will be a force in the Ulster Championship. And after that too."
Anto is also a member of the Jim Gavin Fan Club.
"He has lifted it to a different level. He has brought so much professionalism to it.
"He's a great man-manager. Players want to play for him.
"There's such quality in that Dublin squad. You have 35 serious footballers. "They are all singing off the same hymn sheet. And when you have that, a team is very hard to beat."
Anto feels the contest will be a corker. He has seen the League change.
"There's more concentration on the League than ever before. Counties are putting more into it.
"When Dublin won the 2013 League, they went on to win the All-Ireland. And that has been a trend.
"Years ago, you had teams lining out without many of their top stars. That doesn't happen as much anymore.
"Granted, the League is a good place to try out players.
"But you don't see teams making wholesale changes these days. They'll bring in a few new lads alright, but the basic structure of the side remains the same.
"Counties are now preparing for the League with real intent. The games are very demanding. And the view is there that a decent League run makes for a good Championship" adds Anto who is currently managing St Brigid's minor footballers.
And Anto stresses that the points will be vital for both counties at HQ.
Tyrone lost to Monaghan, beat Mayo and drew with Derry on Saturday night.
The Dubs lost to Cork, beat Donegal and fell to Kerry on Sunday.
"Division 1 is tough. That goes without saying.
"I felt that Dublin had Kerry in trouble with their high-pace game.
"But then Kerry came out of the blocks. You can never write off Kerry.
"There's a lot at stake now. I think this match will be played at a Championship pace.
"I'm looking forward to it. The Spring Series is a great idea.
"It's lovely to see the young generation going along to Croke Park to watch their heroes."
Ciarán Kilkenny is one of those. Anto has a high regard for him.
"It's a huge bonus having him back. He has everything as a footballer. He brings such physical strength to it and such skill as well.
"He is a massive presence for Dublin, and he will be for the years to come. He is a role model. I remember Whitehall played Castleknock and he was there after the game shaking hands with everybody. He makes time for people."
Anto is also thrilled to see Bernard Brogan back dancing.
"There's a lot of fellas still to come back. Serious footballers like Paul Flynn and Michael Darragh Macauley, plus the Vincent's lads, etc.
"But Dublin will be keen to win against Tyrone. And it's not going to be easy.
"Yet the fact that it's in Croke Park is a big advantage. Going away in the League, especially to the likes of Cork and Kerry, is tough.
"If Dublin bring their 'A' game, I think they can pick up the points."
One day, Anto will manage Whitehall seniors. His kit bag will be packed with wisdom.
The wisdom of the gents that have brightened his football journey along the way.