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'Right man' O'Regan has earned his place to coach Dublin

Recent arrival to Farrell's background team has a brilliant CV with St Enda's

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Brian O’Regan, Director of Coaching at Ballyboden St Enda’s, speaking to his players during the Dublin County SFC quarter-final match against Raheny at Parnell Park

Brian O’Regan, Director of Coaching at Ballyboden St Enda’s, speaking to his players during the Dublin County SFC quarter-final match against Raheny at Parnell Park

SPORTSFILE

Brian O’Regan, Director of Coaching at Ballyboden St Enda’s, speaking to his players during the Dublin County SFC quarter-final match against Raheny at Parnell Park

Last December, on a day more suited to bog snorkelling than football, Anthony Rainbow was celebrating the crowning hour of a glorious year for Ballyboden St Enda's. His team had just come with a late scoring burst to eke out a 0-8 to 0-6 win over Éire Óg of Carlow in the AIB Leinster club SFC title at a wind-lashed and sodden O'Moore Park.

"We haven't conceded a goal in the last four and a half matches," the Boden boss pointed out.

"And I think that's a credit to our defence. I think it's a credit to the panel that we have. I think it's a credit to the club and the coaching that we get from an incredible coach called Brian O'Regan."

Rainbow was being interviewed by club stalwart Gerry O'Sullivan (for his 'History of Ballyboden St Enda's 1969-2019') who surmised that he rated O'Regan highly.

"I rate Brian O'Regan probably the best coach I've ever come across," the Kildare legend replied. "And I think he would never be out of place in any county set-up."

O'Sullivan wondered, half-mischievously, if he might be snapped up by the new Dublin management team, yet to be installed after Jim Gavin's departure.

"I hope not!"

It didn't happen straight away but in August, some eight months later, Dessie Farrell made the call and O'Regan became part of Team Dublin.

A fascinating sub-plot to tomorrow night's Leinster SFC final in Croke Park is the Ballyboden connection on both management teams.

Andy McEntee is now in his fourth season at the Meath helm, his successful candidacy in August 2016 enhanced in no small part by his delivery of a maiden All-Ireland club title to Boden the previous St Patrick's Day.

Brian O'Regan wasn't part of McEntee's management team for that epic 2015-16 campaign; but he was centrally involved in the whole GAA operation on the Firhouse Road in his full-time brief as Director of Coaching.

When he joined Rainbow's backroom team and they went on to emulate McEntee on two fronts (winning Dublin and Leinster titles in 2019) it completed the 'grand slam' for O'Regan, who has coached his native club to Dublin senior titles in ladies football, camogie, hurling and football.

And while the Boden men failed to complete their All-Ireland mission last January, O'Regan had previously coached the ladies to back-to-back All-Irelands in '04 and '05.

For all that, he is something of an unknown to GAA watchers not familiar with the capital's grassroots scene. He doesn't have the high profile of Declan Darcy and Jason Sherlock, the two coaches pivotally aligned to Gavin's stewardship of the five-in-a-row.

Nor is he a household name like Paul Clarke, who straddled the Gavin era and the early months of Farrell's tenure before his departure was revealed in August.

To some naysayers, Farrell has inherited a poisoned chalice, because anything less than Sam Maguire will be perceived as failure.

Likewise, becoming Dublin coach in the slipstream of such high achievers is sure to come with a lot of pressure attached. Yet people who know him best, at Ballyboden, are convinced he is ready for the step-up.

Simon Lambert, the former Dublin hurler who has been coached in both codes by O'Regan, points out that Farrell was Na Fianna manager last year when they lost to Boden in a county quarter-final thriller.

"I'm sure Dessie was quite impressed with how Ballyboden were set up," Lambert suggests.

Surprise

"And just knowing Brian, the way he operates, he's very much into researching and making sure that all boxes are ticked in preparation for games and in preparation for the year ahead. Yeah, there was an element of surprise (at his appointment) but I've no doubt Dessie got the right man."

Lambert was a young summer camp attendee when he first encountered O'Regan, who became the club's schools coaching officer in September 2002.

Armagh defender Enda McNulty had already been installed as Boden's first coaching director and when he moved on to pastures new in the mid-noughties, O'Regan was the obvious choice to take over.

His own playing career with the club had been derailed by injury. "He's a huge man, he must be about six foot four," says Colin Moran, the former Dublin captain and a Boden contemporary.

"He had awful problems with his shoulders," he adds. "So it got to the stage, when he was reasonably young, that he had to give up. I suppose like a lot of sportspeople, they throw themselves into coaching then if their career has ended so early."

O'Regan shared a minor football dressing-room with Moran and Conal Keaney when Boden won the 1998 Dublin MFC title after a campaign that spilled over into '99. In the semi-final against St Vincent's, O'Regan emerged as the late goalscoring hero despite lining out at full-back. His initial penalty hit an upright but, in the ensuing scramble, the ball was handled on the ground in the small square, a second penalty was awarded and this time he nailed it.

As Moran recalls, they were an "Underdogs kind of team" who went on to vanquish Kilmacud against the odds in the final - and O'Regan was a "good player, physically imposing."

When the Firhouse CC student helped Dublin to capture the 2000 All-Ireland Vocational Schools title, he featured at midfield for the final against Tyrone. The team photo in Croke Park that day shows him towering several inches over Darren Magee while another future Dublin senior player, Stephen O'Shaughnessy, was on the same side.

This wasn't the last interaction between O'Regan and O'Shaughnessy, such a central player in the Dublin success story as the county's football development officer.

As Moran outlines, O'Regan "mightn't be known nationally, but the county board would have been very familiar with how good he was - and not just through his work with Ballyboden.

"When I retired, a good few years ago now, I went in to look after some of the (Dublin) development squads and I asked him to come with me as coach. Stephen O'Shaughnessy would have seen his talent as a coach. Then he stayed on and went with Paddy Christie's Dublin minor team."

Now the bar has been raised far higher, barring a shock implosion, for the All-Ireland battles beyond. And yet according to Lambert, this is a far more challenging week for his former boss, McEntee.

"I never had a manager like him - well, I suppose there's an element of (Anthony) Daly and Liam Hogan in Andy as well, he's so intense," says Lambert.

And then, alluding to Meath's remarkable 12 goals in two SFC outings, he wonders: "Will Andy be as open as he has been in terms of chasing goals? If you try to sit back, you're probably inviting Dublin on. Look what the scoreline was last year … they only scored four points.

"This week, Andy's probably torn between do we go ultra-conservative again, or do we go at them and are we leaving ourselves open?

"So, a lot of those questions lie on Andy's doorstep rather than Dublin's this week."

The hard questions for Farrell and his new sidekick may have to wait.


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