BY his own admission, despite being just 24 years of age, Edenderry captain Richie Dalton is one of the older players on a what in the main is a very young team.
This year he has certainly emerged as an impressive and consistent player at county level where he nailed down a starting position for Offaly.
As good as his form was in the green, white and gold, he has arguably been more impressive when wearing his club colours as he led his team back to the county final for the first time in 10 years.
Speaking ahead of this Sunday’s County Final clash with Clara, the talented midfielder acknowledged that while it’s been a tough road back for Edenderry, they are reaping the rewards from their efforts this year.
“Coming from the last few years it’s been very tough. But Peter and the boys have come down here this year and it’s gotten everybody together again playing as a team and working together. So far results have been going our way but the next day it will be much tougher but we have another day out.”
After three years battling in the rlegation play-offs, Edenderry have shocked a lot of people with their sudden return to the County Final this year. While Richie Dalton agrees that people had a right to have low expectations for the side, he pointed to the youth in the squad as a main reason for the revival.
“People had a right to think that after the last couple of years fighting relegation and we weren’t going great. But there’s a lot of young lads here. I’m feeling like an old man on the team and I’m only and I’m only 24. Everyone’s under 20 but they’re coming up and the boys have them believing again. They keep telling them to believe in themselves and telling them that they are a good team. We got a couple of wins and that lifted everything and it made it a lot easier, particularly down at training. We got a bit of momentum and it’s been going well.”
Edenderry lost their first game of the campaign against Erin Rovers and that did little to raise the confidence in the squad however he points to their narrow win over Tullamore as a turning point.
“Against Tullamore we got a good win, even though we only won by a point. We took a lot out of it because we stuck with it and we got the result. That was something we had been struggling to do the last couple of years where we were coming out of games losing by that point rather than winning by that point. It kind of felt like we were going places then.”
Edenderry also recorded wins in their group over Tubber and Ferbane but the Edenderry captain agreed that the side also got a boost from their game against Rhode even though it ended in defeat.
“Rhode demand a lot of respect. They have been county champions and have dominated things between themselves and Clara the last couple of years. Just to mix it up with them and just to give them a scare boosted the confidence. You have to measure yourself against the best and they have been the best in fairness over the last couple of years. It gives you a boost and lets you know that the hard work that you are putting in is paying off. It pushes you on again to try and do that extra little bit.”
Since then Edenderry have gone from strength to strength starting with a big win over St Rynagh’s in the quarter-final which they followed up with another win over Gracefield in the last four.
“Gracefield only scored three points and two of them were from the centre-back. On the day though they kicked a few wides and on another day they could have gone over the bar. I think we didn’t play particularly well but even at that Gracefield topped the group. Again I think the ball bounced well for us and we took our scores when we got the chances. We took our scores, they didn’t take their scores. That was the difference.”
Despite Edenderry’s good form, Richie Dalton is in no doubt about the size of the challenge facing his side against Clara.
“With Clara, the same as Rhode, they have been there or thereabouts for the last few years. They were very impressive against Rhode and they are going very well. They’re going to be hard to stop but we’re in the final and we’re going to worry about ourselves. We’re going to get another few hard nights work in. We do believe we can win. We’re there, we’re where we want to be. We’re going to give it a proper crack. We know exactly what to expect . We know a lot of the Clara lads so we’ll give it our best shot. They are the team to beat.”
While much has been made of the younger players in the Edenderry squad, there are a trio of more experienced players who Richie Dalton says are of huge importance.
All three of the members of Edenderry’s management team have lifted the Dowling Cup. The current captain is hoping he will be the latest Edenderry name added to the cup.
“Everyone from when you start playing football dreams about winning a county championship and we know we have a good chance. It would be a dream but that’s what we want. That’s what everybody wants. Especially being captain as well it would be even better. Last year I didn’t think I was going to get the chance.”
He has the chance this Sunday. It remains to be seen if he and his team can deliver.
SEE THIS WEEK’S OFFALY EXPRESS FOR EIGHT PAGE PREVIEW OF THIS WEEKEND’S OFFALY SFC FINAL