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Sunday 17 December 2017

Dempsey: 'I was set to pack it in when Moores rang me'

Now Luke must topple old mates to seal history for Loman's

St Loman’s Mullingar manager Luke Dempsey on the sideline last Sunday. Pic: Sportsfile
St Loman’s Mullingar manager Luke Dempsey on the sideline last Sunday. Pic: Sportsfile

Luke Dempsey says he was on the verge of quitting team management when Moorefield came calling five years ago.

Now, half a decade and five consecutive county senior titles later, the much-travelled boss is hoping to outfox his one-time comrades in the AIB Leinster club SFC final.

No one could doubt Dempsey's description of this year's decider - fixed for Portlaoise on December 10 - as a "novel pairing".

Moorefield have been here before - but just once, winning in 2006. For St Loman's of Mullingar, this is virgin territory and in their first provincial final they'll hope to become only the second Westmeath winners, after Garrycastle in 2011.

It's an occasion to savour for a man who has been seen it all on the midland managerial circuit, guiding his adopted Westmeath (to the brink of an All-Ireland semi-final in 2001) as well as Longford and Carlow, while also leading Westmeath to historic All-Ireland success at minor and U21 level, in 1995 and '99 respectively.

And yet Dempsey felt he'd had enough after calling time on his four-year Carlow tenure in 2012.

"At the time I was going to Moorefield, I was packing in managing," he revealed, fresh from leading Loman's to another rousing comeback victory on Sunday, this time against Simonstown Gaels.

Pleasure

"But when they rang and asked would I go over … l love Kildare club football, I played there for ten years with Johnstownbridge, and it was a pleasure to get back into Kildare for those two years.

"And it gave me that kickstart again that I needed badly."

Some kickstart.

In his two years there, Dempsey masterminded back-to-back Kildare SFC titles. Then he 'came home' to Loman's and secured a first ever Westmeath three-in-a-row for the Mullingar outfit.

That's five county titles in five years. No wonder some locals have asked why Dempsey wasn't top of the Westmeath county board's wish-list in the wake of Tom Cribbin's summer departure.

As it is, with Colin Kelly newly installed in the Westmeath hotseat, the chances of a second coming have eroded even further.

And yet Dempsey's recent club record brooks no argument ... and to further embellish his reputation at Moorefield, both final victories were secured at the expense of their Newbridge neighbours and arch-enemy, Sarsfields.

By a curious twist, his victorious captain in year one - 2013 - was Ross Glavin. Now, on Sunday week, his touchline adversary will be ... Ross Glavin.

"You couldn't have a nicer club in a Leinster final," Dempsey declared. "It's a novel pairing, and when I was in Moorefield for two years I never enjoyed going back into management as much ... with their commitment, organisation and players who take their football so seriously.

"They have won a Leinster title before, I think it was 2006, and they still have that as their landmark title. That has driven the club on."

Begrudge

Then, tongue planted firmly in cheek, he continued: "I'm sure they won't begrudge Loman's a victory in two weeks' time, and let us do what they did in 2006 and build a club as magnificently as they've done up there.

"So if Ross Glavin is listening, or any of the boys up there, just know to go easy on us in Portlaoise! A pitch that they're well used to, and we've never played there so we're at an entire disadvantage. But I know we will go there and give it our best shot."

Dempsey may be in a rush to claim the underdog role but not everyone is so convinced. Certainly not the bookies - Boylesports couldn't separate them yesterday - while Simonstown boss Colm O'Rourke gives them a serious shot at the title.

"I think they're a good team and obviously, having won three Westmeaths in a row, they have the experience of winning. They're in a good position," the RTÉ pundit concluded.

And yet recovering from perilous positions has become a recurring feature of this campaign: they trailed Mullinalaghta by six points early in the fourth quarter and then Simonstown by seven at the end of the first quarter on Sunday.

Now, while Glavin & Co can claim the inside track on Dempsey, he has the advantage of knowing all about Moorefield's on-field strengths and weaknesses.

"For our club, a small club on the edge of the town with a small player membership, it's just a marvellous occasion to be in.

"And I'm so proud of the players. The club will have a great day out," he promised.

"But just remember, as manager of a club team, I've never won a Leinster club title - so I'm appealing to those Moorefield lads to just remember that!"

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