Warrenpoint are preparing for their first Down Senior final since 1978, and Niall McCoy interviewed the Boyle brothers – Ryan, John and Gary – ahead of their date with destiny against Kilcoo
Niall McCoy: You were all involved back in 2014 when Warrenpoint won Down and Ulster Intermediate honours. What has happened in the meantime to get you to the senior final?
John Boyle: I think it has just been a natural progression. Maybe the fact that they actually won something, got a taste for it, helped a lot. A lot of those boys coming in at that time had won minors and u-21 so they did bring a winning mentality and they were able to push things to a new level. The way they have conducted themselves off the pitch has been exemplary too, their attitude to weights, nutrition, the extra bits.
Ryan Boyle: Probably the best thing for the team at the time was to play at intermediate level and win something. We got promoted and we have remained in Division One and have held our own. Player availability, boys working away and rotten luck with injuries has hurt us a lot. Even this year we have been very unlucky with injuries and it has been about trying to get everyone available and luckily enough for the championship we have mostly been able to do that.
Gary Boyle: It’s just been building on the foundations that secured that success at intermediate level. Bernie (Ruane) was working with the guys long before they got to senior level and they just took it all on when they came into the team. The new management team came in when the foundations were strong enough to be taken in a different direction. I think the guys have come in have worked really hard on what Bernie and Declan (Mussen) had left behind.
NMcC: I was checking and 10 of the players who started that 2014 Ulster final against Inniskeen played in this year’s semi-final against Ballyholland, Jamie Grant featured in both too. This group has really stayed together.
GB: A lot of the guys came up together and had success at u-16s, minors, u-21s. That helped them to stick together and they have effectively had a few older lads moulded into that team. It’s a testament to that group for sticking it out.
JB: The project started a wee bit before that and it grew year-on-year. Those boys were only 20, 21 back when we won Ulster. They’re probably coming into their prime. Last year it didn’t work out for one reason or another and the year before was sort of a building year, so we knew that this was a big year. We have had plenty of downs for the ups we have experienced, but we have learned a lot over the last four or five years.
RB: We knew when those boys were going to form the crux of the senior team for the next
five to 10 years. Those boys have matured and have gotten better every year playing in Division One.
NMcC: A close semi-final was expected but you tore Ballyholland apart, was that this team’s best performance?
JB: Given the age that I am, semifinals like that don’t come along too often. I knew the importance of what the game meant as the development of this team as a whole. So for me, all of us, to do well and get the rub of the green, made it one of the most pleasing games I’ve had in a blue jersey.
RB: We played very, very well but I suppose Ballyholland didn’t turn up either. Ballyholland are definitely not as bad as they showed in that game. There have been other games, particularly in the league, when we have beaten some of the top teams. It’s been the consistency that we have been lacking though.
GB: A lot of people think that our Clonduff performance was up there earlier in the
championship. Certainly Ballyholland for intensity and our conversion percentage has it right up there,no doubt.
NMcC: You’d expect that again, plus some more, will be needed to get the better of Kilcoo. I’m sure you have been big admirers of their phenomenal success over the last decade?
RB: I remember looking at them in 2012 when we won the Intermediate and thinking they are the benchmark for every team. They have been amazing over the last decade. That’s where we wanted to get to but did we really believe we would get there? Probably not at that stage. We needed a few players to develop before we could say that we could make a final if we get a full team out. Whether we can beat Kilcoo is another story but we just want to perform.
JB: I know a few of the Kilcoo boys and eight finals in 10 years speaks volumes. To be that dominant in quite a competitive county, well hats off to them. It’s hard to enough to go to the well for one season but they keep backing it up and backing it up. They hold the aces, especially when it comes to experience. We’re going in as firm underdogs, that’s a tag that sometimes works well for you though.
GB: They have set the yardstick for everyone else and all clubs want to emulate their success. It’s incredible for a club their size to have that longevity. They’re in the senior final, they won the Premier Reserve Championship, they won the ladies and they’re in the Minor too. It’s complete dominance and it’s what we all strive to do.
NMcC: We all know about Kilcoo’s legendary battling qualities when things get gritty. There is maybe a perception that Warrenpoint only flourish when the football is nice and attacking, is that fair?
JB: Fair or unfair, I don’t really know. Have we come through tight games? I would say yes. Have we been pipped in tight games? I would say yes too. If you go back 10 years ago we were probably getting hammered in those games. People may say that when it gets down and dirty we don’t count but we’re well aware and we have been building towards this. We have always been learning from our defeats, whether it was tight or not.
GB: We do seem to play attacking, free-flowing football but that all starts with solid defensive foundations, that solidity at the back.
RB: You can only go on what our league form has been like over the last few years. One week we have been absolutely outstanding and can go toe-to-toe with all the big guns and then the next week we might get beat by the team that is rock bottom of the league. From what I’ve seen this last number of years there has been no lack of effort, no lack of motivation and it’s more a case of big injuries, missing big chances. I suppose it’s not unfair though when you look at our league form.
NMcC: Bernie Ruane before and now Niall McAleenan, the team’s progress owes to the management teams? JB: You always need good management teams. You can’t forget what Bernie did with the core group of that team, he took them from u- 10s, u-12s, and they were winning the whole way up. It was that group that was used to the big successes, not us older boys, and they came in and stamped their authority on the team. Massive credit goes to every coach who has played a part in every player’s journey. A lot of ex-players have shaped so many of our players too. It’s unfortunate that time has caught up with them and they won’t get the chance to play in a county final, but they have had a
RB: I don’t think I’ve said this to Bernie but none of this would have happened without him. The majority of those lads, from 11, 12 years of age, have come right through with him. They won plenty with him and that was worth a lot. Niall has come in and has been absolutely brilliant. His preparation is second to none, probably the best I’ve seen and that includes the county panel.
GB: It’s not a fair reflection to say it’s all about senior level. There were big changes made looking at our underage structures a number of years back and it’s coming to fruition now. Your Liam Howletts, John Dalys of this world are invaluable. They maybe don’t get the senior recongintion but they put the blocks in place.
NMcC: John, you have managed to have a good Irish League career alongside the Gaelic, maybe that wouldn’t have been as easy with other clubs? JB: It hasn’t always been plain sailing but thankfully the last couple of years we have managed to make it work. It involves sacrifice, give and take, but if everyone is trying to do the right thing then it can work. It does take a compromise, which isn’t easy for managers, but the likes of Bernie and Niall have made it easy for me. It has allowed me to play two sports that I love so I can’t thank them enough for that, same with the soccer boys.
NMcC: Gary I hear not only are you a selector this year but sub goalie also.
GB: I came out of retirement after the keepers were all struck by injury in pre-season. I had to go source a pair of gloves and a kicking cone and away I went. Thankfully we have one of our keepers back to full health and hopefully I will be watching the match from the sideline!
NMcC: Ryan, it’s secondary in your thoughts at the moment I’m sure but would you still ever like to get back to the county scene? RB: I’m 30 years of age now and if I had those ambitions it probably would have been a couple of years ago. The way the club has went, it is very professional and I’m training probably more now than when I was on the county. One of the main reasons I left was because of the amount of injuries I was picking up. It was mostly to do with my knee, I struggled with tendonitis for years, and it’s only really in the last year that I have been pain free. There are an awful lot of good, young footballers in Down and it’s time to give those boys a go.
NMcC: Finally, what would a Frank O’Hare Cup success do for Warrenpoint?
RB: The big news for the club this year was that we bought the pony club beside our pitch. I remember at
a young age seeing plans in the club for a development that never took off so regardless of what happens against Kilcoo, that is probably the most important thing that has happened the club this year.
GB: As a club we’re in a good position, there’s no doubt about it. That’s down to the committee, the volunteers who are getting the facilities sorted so we can have the success on the pitch.
JB: The town should be one of the big forces in providing something for everyone. Getting new land is massive because the facilities have to match the ambition of the different teams. Getting to the final can hopefully give the younger generations a bit of the lift and the town itself a bit of a lift because we have sat in the doldrums for far too long.