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Barney's journey Dubs' legend Rock recalls Ballymun’s rise to the top despite obstacles

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Ballymun Kickhams captain James McCarthy, centre, lifts the Clerys Perpetual Cup alongside Paddy Small, left, and John Small after the Dublin County Senior 1 Football Championship Final match between Ballyboden St Enda's and Ballymun Kickhams at Parnell Park in Dublin. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Ballymun Kickhams captain James McCarthy, centre, lifts the Clerys Perpetual Cup alongside Paddy Small, left, and John Small after the Dublin County Senior 1 Football Championship Final match between Ballyboden St Enda's and Ballymun Kickhams at Parnell Park in Dublin. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Ballymun Kickhams captain James McCarthy, centre, lifts the Clerys Perpetual Cup alongside Paddy Small, left, and John Small after the Dublin County Senior 1 Football Championship Final match between Ballyboden St Enda's and Ballymun Kickhams at Parnell Park in Dublin. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Barney Rock was in the first wave of Ballymun footballers to hit the big time.

In 1982, the club won their first-ever Dublin senior title.

Just four years earlier, when Rock began his adult career, they were playing in the intermediate grade.

But the foundation for their breakthrough was laid during the latter half of the 1970s on the back of the resurgence in Gaelic football in the city after Dublin's All-Ireland wins in 1974, 1976 and 1977.

Rock featured on the first Ballymun Kickhams' minor team to win a Dublin A championship in 1977. Within two years, he had won an All-Ireland minor title with Dublin - the county's first in 20 years.

"In 1978, Ballymun won the intermediate league, which meant we played in the senior league the following year. In 1979, we ended up winning the intermediate championship. We were just a young team coming through," recalls Rock.

But, within two years, the team, which also included future Dublin stars Gerry Hargan, Dermot Deasy, John Kearns and Anto McCaul, reached the Dublin senior final for the first time.

Though they lost to then-kingpins of Dublin football St Vincent's in the decider, they were not to be denied.

In 1982, under the captaincy of Deasy - a future All-Star winner - they won the Dublin title for the first time, beating their neighbours Erin's Isle in the final.

"We had some great players, and, from then on, we threatened to win loads of championships, though we didn't win a second title until 1985," recalls Rock.

When they played in their next county final in 1989, Dublin forward John McCarthy had joined forces with them, having transferred from Na Fianna, but they were beaten by Thomas Davis.

Wasteland

The loss marked the end of an era for the club in terms of senior success. The next 20 years were a wasteland. It might have remained like that but for the intervention of former Dublin captain Paddy Christie.

During the peak of his own career, he took over the club's Under-10 team in 1996 and guided them through to adult level.

Their remarkable journey was captured in last month's RTÉ documentary 'Passing it On: Ballymun Kickhams'. The watershed moment came when they won the 2007 Dublin U-21 Championship - they triumphed again the following year.

Not alone have graduates from that team backboned the Ballymun senior side in the last decade, but Dublin's All-Ireland-winning teams as well.

Christie never won an All-Ireland medal, but Philly McMahon reckons that he is responsible for some 20 medals that Ballymun Kickhams' players won.

Barney's son Dean, together with James McCarthy (son of John McCarthy), Philly McMahon, the Small brothers, Paddy and John, and Evan Comerford, are members of the current Dublin squad.

Given their talent, the club ought to have won more at senior level. The current squad has triumphed just once, in 2012, when they went on to contest the All-Ireland club final. They have only two county final appearances since - in 2013, when they lost in a replay to St Vincent's, and they were beaten by the same team in the 2017 decider.

But Rock, who has been a selector alongside current manager Brendan Hackett for the last three seasons, believes there are valid reasons why the team appears to have underachieved.

"Back when I played, we had the same issue with six or seven fellows on Dublin squads. But the big difference back then was that both the All-Ireland and the Dublin championship was straight knock-out. Nowadays, the inter-county players play a lot more games."

Back in 1983, when Rock won his only All-Ireland medal, Dublin played six games - including a replay win over Cork in the semi-final. Last year, Dublin's five-in-row campaign featured nine games, including the replay against Kerry.

Regret

"The timing of the Dublin championship was different back in the 1980s as well. There would have been club championship games immediately after National League, and the Dublin final was usually played in the first weekend in July.

"This year it was great to have all the players together for the entire championship. Last year, after the All-Ireland final replay, we had our county players back for about a week."

Barney's only regret is that he can't swap places with Dean.

"I'd love to be a footballer nowadays, because it would have been fantastic to get the best of conditioning. The preparation and training nowadays are totally different, and totally for the better."