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Small area gave huge firepower to Ireland

Brady, Stapleton and O'Leary just four miles apart

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David O’Leary. Photo: Sportsfile

David O’Leary. Photo: Sportsfile

David O’Leary. Photo: Sportsfile

Four miles. That's the distance, as Liam Brady makes it, between the houses on the northside of Dublin where he, David O'Leary and Frank Stapleton grew up.

A combined tally of 211 caps and 12 major medals is some haul for three boys from such a small area. Then add in the family ties and the Ireland caps won by Liam's brother Ray and David's sibling Pierce and it's a pretty impressive honours list for a small area.

"You had Frank over in Artane, David off Ballymun Avenue, the three of us were maybe four miles apart.

"We had some pretty good footballers come out from that part of Dublin, I'd love to see something like that happen again," says Brady, reflecting on a career which saw him become one of the all-time greats with Arsenal and Ireland and win two Serie A titles with Juventus.

Brady took the first steps of his career when kicking a ball in the driveway of the family home of Glenshesk Road, in Whitehall. Stapleton (Artane) and O'Leary (Glasnevin) had a similar start in life.

In those Arsenal and Ireland sides, O'Leary kept the goals out while Stapleton led the line, Brady in the middle, the engine room.

It must be something in the water in that part of town: when looking at the area's track record a trend emerges as Dublin 5 tends to churn out some fine central midfield players: past internationals Liam Brady (Whitehall) and Keith Andrews (Artane), current Ireland players such as Jeff Hendrick (Coolock) and domestic stars like Ronan Finn (Beaumont) and Gary Deegan (Coolock) as well as cross-channel ones, such as the Dawson brothers Kevin and Stephen.

As Dublin tried to breathe in the 1940s and '50s, families moved from the inner city to the new suburbs in places like Whitehall, Artane and Coolock.

Brady's parents were a mixture of city (dad from North Strand) and suburb (mother from Coolock) and they lived initially in Donnycarney but settled in Whitehall, Glenshesk Road, the newly built Corporation houses.

There was street football around there but the formation, in 1959, of St Kevin's Boys laid out a path for Brady, the club's first home in Ellenfield Park an early playground for him.

"No one had a car at first so the roads were clear for you to play football, we had good facilities up in Ellenfield with St Kevin's, but you'd still play on the road," Brady recalls.

"Back then, St Kevin's welcomed anyone to play, whereas the likes of Home Farm were very choosy about who could play for them.

"Home Farm always headhunted the best talent in Dublin, and that's probably what St Kevin's are doing now, they have had great success in the last while and they helped people like Damien Duff, Jeff Hendrick and Robbie Brady get to where they reached. There are great people there."

Dublin's suburbs had their rivalries then, as now. "Villa United, from Cabra, and Rangers from Bushy Park, they were two hard teams to play against, the matches were always tough," says Brady.

"I knew Dublin because of football, you needed to know how to get to Sallynoggin to play Joey's or to Cabra or Crumlin."

Arsenal had spotted Brady playing for St Kevin's when he was 13 and signed him as a 15-year-old, a desperate case of homesickness leading him back to Dublin before the Gunners lured him back, as the northside trio of Brady, O'Leary and Stapleton (with southsider John Devine a later addition to the crew) a huge success.

New estates like Darndale and Priorswood were built, and clubs followed: St Malachy's FC in Edenmore in 1968, Vianney Boys in 1971, Artane/Beaumont in 1987 among the new outfits in the area, where over a dozen junior and schoolboy/girl clubs now thrive.

And new families were imported, the family of future Ireland captain Kenny Cunningham settling in Coolock after a move from Blessington Street.

Installed

Keith Andrews, the former Ireland midfielder, recently installed as assistant manager to the senior international team, was another blow-in to the area.

He was born close to the inner city, Bessborough Avenue in North Strand, though the family moved north, up the Malahide Road, to Elm Mount when he was just two years old, and Stella Maris honed his talents. His part of Dublin left its mark.

Speaking of his relationship with Glenn Whelan in the Irish midfield at Euro 2012, Andrews reckoned the pair took different things from their backgrounds.

"There's a bit of balance there between myself, a northsider, and Glenn, the southsider," Andrews said in 2012. "We have a bit of banter about which is harder: Artane, where I'm from, or Clondalkin, where Glenn comes from. But I know that Artane's much harder."

Fleetwood Town striker Paddy Madden, capped once at senior level and one of the most in-form Irish strikers in England before Covid-19 halted the season, also wears his birth place as a badge of honour.

Madden played schoolboy football in Finglas for WFTA before joining Bohemians but Darndale (Moatview) was home and football was his life.

He admits education was low on his list of priorities but secondary school helped. "I went to Chanel College, it was a good footballing school. I'd go in mostly on PE days, but learning, I never fancied it.

"I never had the concentration span to listen to something I wasn't interested in," Madden told the Herald last month. Gary Deegan, enjoying a second spell in the League of Ireland with Shelbourne after a 10-year career in England, is another Chanel graduate.

The Dawson family in Coolock sent forth two men who would become cross-channel professionals, but in the Dublin of the early 1990s, football was an effective babysitter.

"Four boys with a five-and-a-half year gap, that was a hard job for our parents to manage, a bit of a madhouse, so they just wanted to get us out of the house and football was an easy way of doing that. My mam and dad wanted a break from us so maybe that's why they got us into football," Stephen Dawson joked.

His brother agreed. "In the summer we'd be handed a ball, sent out to play and told not to come home until it was dark," Kevin laughed.

That message is repeated. Jeff Hendrick may have a Premier League wage and over 50 senior caps, but he had the same start in life.

"Where I grew up, we played football until dark every day on the green," Hendrick once said.

Soccer had always had competition from other codes there. Liam Brady was expelled from his school, St Aidan's, for the crime of choosing to play in a schoolboy international, against Wales, over a schools challenge match in Gaelic football and stuck with soccer despite the cost. Hendrick would joke that he would opt to play GAA at secondary school for St David's, under the eye of Brian Talty for a particular reason.

Class

"I only played Gaelic with the school just to get out of class really," Hendrick said in 2016, "I remember my teacher wanted me to give up soccer for Gaelic. He said I was good enough to play for Dublin but there was no chance of me doing that. It was always going to be football (soccer) for me."

Gaelic games nabbed hold of local talents like Stephen Cluxton, a player who could have had a soccer career only for Dublin GAA to win that battle, though Dublin 5 saw some keepers emerge, Ian Lawlor and Danny Rogers both spending time in the senior Ireland squad.

Are there more to come? "The Dublin I grew up in always produced players," Brady told the Herald. "Let's hope we can give Stephen Kenny a hand with a few more of them."