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vinnies in for a battle at portlaoise - Whelan

WINTER'S chill. The sod is getting softer. Porridge for the breakfast and putting extra petrol in the tank. Mickey Whelan knows all about such days. Both as a player and manager.

Wise men say that he was always a step ahead of the traffic. A fabled footballer.

In the laces, he carried fitness, pace and vision. He could open up a defence at his ease.

St Vincent's is a celebrated cathedral of the game, and Mickey has long held a place in the front pew.

He was playing when the club won their All-Ireland title back in 1976. In the semi-final that year, they beat Nemo Rangers in The Mardyke. That victory went down in Vincent's folklore.

And in the All-Ireland final, they overcame Roscommon Gaels at Portlaoise.

The starting 15 read: Norman Bernard; Gay O'Driscoll, Brendan Pocock, Vinny Lambe; Dave Billings, PJ Reid, Mick Hannick; Barney Reddy, Fran Ryder; Brian Mullins, Mick Behan, Bobby Doyle; Tony Hanahoe, Jimmy Keaveney and Mickey Whelan.

It was in 2007 that Mickey managed Vincent's to their first Dublin Senior Football Championship title in almost a quarter-of-a-century.

They went on to become the All-Ireland champions. The future Dublin manager, Pat Gilroy, was a pivotal presence in that triumph.

It was Pat's 16th year on the senior team. It was his third senior county championship final.

The previous season, UCD had beaten Vincent's by a point in the final.

Pat's father, Jack, a St Vincent's legend, had died earlier in 2007.

Jack was one of Mickey's dearest friends. Jack was club chairman three times after he won four Dublin SFC medals and he had success playing for the Dublin minors and seniors.

Vincent's beat St Brigid's by two points under the lights of Parnell Park, and Pat came off the bench on 40 minutes to make a telling impact.

The old firm of Diarmuid Connolly and Tomás Quinn were the Vincent's top tellers, their side also included Michael Savage, Hugh Gill and Ger Brennan - all men still to the fore of the current team who face Portlaoise in Leinster Club SFC quarter-final action this Sunday in O'Moore Park.

Dramatic

Mickey then had a major input as Pat managed the Dubs to All-Ireland glory in 2011, bridging the gap to 1995 in such dramatic fashion, and he's still in love with the game as much as ever.

They say that the first day out after winning the county title can be the hardest of all.

And Mickey is predicting a testing afternoon in the Midlands.

"It will be a tough match. Portlaoise have achieved a lot. They have a good record," he said of the eight in-a-row O'Moore County pace-setters.

Back in 2007, with Mickey in the dugout, Vins handsomely defeated Portlaoise in the Leinster semi-final in Parnell Park.

Last year, in the Leinster decider at O'Connor Park, things were far tighter.

The Dubliners prevailed by three points. Portlaoise scored 3-9, the biggest ever score recorded by a losing team in the Leinster final.

It was tight till the last bell. Mossy Quinn's fabulous late point tied up the blue-and-white parcel.

In 2007, Tommy Conroy was a selector under Mickey along with Shane O'Hanlon, Tony Diamond and Christy Farrell.

Tommy has now he has steered Vins to their first back-to-back Dublin titles since 1977.

Mickey is very impressed with his work. "Tommy is doing a great job. And they are a terrific bunch of fellas.

"You have Diarmuid Connolly who is playing so well for club and county. And Mossy (Quinn) is just phenomenal.

"But it's about much more than that. The team is well balanced and they work very hard.

"The younger fellas coming in have done very well. Jarlath Curley is doing brilliantly at full-back.

"And I feel that Hugh Gill is playing very well. They certainly are players for the future at inter-county level." Mickey admires the Vincent's resolve. Last season, they were without Brennan and Connolly for a spell on the Leinster Road.

And in the final, and in the replay, against Ballymun Kickhams, Vinnie's had to climb off the canvas.

Last month they also had to display grit as St Oliver Plunkett's/ER mounted that late comeback in Parnell Park.

"Plunkett's could have won it in the end, but we were definitely the better team on the night," reflected Mickey.

Vincent's wide range of scoring options, and their overall industry, are aces.

"We had a couple of opportunities of goals in that game, but what didn't go in that night will, hopefully, go in on Sunday."

The former Dublin manager has seen the county championship flourish in recent years.

He relished the big nights under the lights and full houses against Ballymun and Plunkett's.

"Yes, last year and this year were among the best finals that I have seen."

And he also hails the contribution of one of his favourite footballers, Ger Brennan.

"Ger is Ger. He's unique. He is an incredible guy. He has a great philosophy on life.

"He's a good person, and he's a warrior."

He is one of the few remaining players from the team of 2008 that won the Andy Merrigan Cup.

Golden memories. Thousands marched from the club to Croke Park in the St Vincent's Day parade.

The grand marshals were the 'Da' Lambe in his van, and Brian Mullins on his bike.

Griffith Avenue hadn't seen as many flags since the Eucharistic Congress of 1932.

When the final whistle blew, there's a famous picture of Mickey looking up to the Heavens, no doubt remembering old friends. And when the team returned to Páirc Naomh Uinsionn, the welcome lifted the roof.

Memories

"We all have nice memories of that. It was great for the club.

"But thankfully things are going well at the minute. This season we have also won the Junior Championship and League, so that's another group coming up."

With Mickey, it's always the next ball ... and the next match.

Facing the Laois Lions in their own Den will focus the mind for Sunday.

Portlaoise have tumbled to Dublin opposition in the recent past - Vincent's, Kilmacud Crokes, St Brigid's and Ballymun.

In their own front garden, they'll be gung-ho to end that sequence.

"Going down there will be difficult, but if we play to our strengths, we'll give a good account of ourselves," says the maestro.

Ger (Brennan) is Ger. He's unique. He is an incredible guy. He has a great philosophy on life. He's a good person, and he's a warrior.

- Mickey Whelan


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