13 Aug 2022

Kildare's Luke Dempsey: manager supreme

Success at all levels, now the school master returns to his native club, Johnstownbridge

Kildare's Luke Dempsey: success few can match

Luke Dempsey

He constantly has a smile on his face, loves a handshake, rarely seems to be in bad form and has a managerial record that will stand the test of time, with any around.
Luke Dempsey.
School master.
Positivity personified.
Born in Kilmore, just outside Cadamstown where he first went to school, he played his early football with Johnstownbridge back in the 1980s.
And ironically, having been involved with a host of clubs, not to mention four county pit stops that lasted a combined total of sixteen years, he has now linked up with his old club of Johnstownbridge for 2020, and possibly another season or two besides.
After qualifying he was appointed to a teaching post in Rochfordbridge but he remained with The Bridge until the late '80s eventually transferring to Mullingar Shamrocks, he is still teaching in Rochfordbridge where he has seen sport flourish from the first time he walked into the school back in 1982.
While admitting that the school struggled in the Leinster Schools 'B' division for a fair few years, it was always his intention to advance into the Leinster 'A' and they eventually did that and only this year, qualified for the Top Oil Leinster PP School 'A' decider where they were due to play 2019 champions, Naas CBS, but unfortunately that fell foul to the virus.
Prior to that Luke won a SFC championship medal with JTB back in 1983, his club's first ever; they won again in 1988 and while Luke was not involve the following year, they were successful again, bringing their total senior championship wins to three, a figure they are still at today.
Luke played with Kildare in '84, '85 and '86, and was out of action for a full 12 months the following year due to illness.
The Bridge '83 side was managed by no less a man than Eamonn O'Donoghue, who also lined out at full back.
“Eamonn was a great coach, a great tactician, having been involved with UCD to win the Leinster Club, twice under Eugene McGee, and he (Eamonn) later went on to manager Kildare seniors.
Eamonn was joined on that team of '83 by three of his brothers, all more than useful players, most also donned the white of Kildare.
Apart from his days in his home club, Luke will always be remembered in these parts for his role with Moorefield in 2013 and 2014 when he managed the club to back-to-back senior football titles.
But before he arrived in Newbridge he had enjoyed incredible success in Westmeath.
At 35 years-of-age he was approached in 1995 to take up the Westmeath minor managerial role and after a lot of thought he decided, sure why not.
“I knew the lie of the land as far as Westmeath underage was concerned and in our first year we got to the Leinster final where we came up against Laois.
“It took us a few games but we eventually defeated Laois after a replay; got the better of Tipperary in the All Ireland semi final before defeating Derry in the final.
“That was like a county such as Westmeath winning a senior title, the place went mad” said Luke.
Stayed another year with the minors before moving up to the U21s in 1997. “Got to a Leinster final but a good Meath side defeated us there.”
However little did Dempsey realise what was coming down the line when in 1999 they won the Leinster and All Ireland U21 titles.
“We beat Kerry in Limerick in the final of that year, a Kerry team that included Tomás Ó Sé, Aodhán Mac Gearail, one of the Spillane's and the side was managed by no less a man that the great Jack O'Connor.”
Luke made the inevitable step up to the senior team in 2001 and while Meath beat them in a replay in the championship they had a fine run in The Qualifiers defeating Mayo before losing out to Meath (again) for a place in the All Ireland semi final, a year that Meath went on to the All Ireland final.
“Meath got the better of us again in the next two seasons before I decided it was time to move on.
“It was then they (Westmeath) brought in Páidí (Ó Sé) and sure they went on that year to win Leinster with Luke pointing out that the difference between 2003 and the following year was a 19-year-old player by the name of Denis Glennon.”
Luke moved on to Carlow in 2004 (with one Mickser Condon), stayed just one year before moving to Longford (less travelling) where he stayed for four years before returning to Carlow for a further four years and as he says himself “at that stage I was getting fed up and was close to packing it all in” quickly adding “and then Moorefield came knocking.”
Luke Dempsey had been managing at various levels from 1994 and here we were now in 2013 when he took over Moorefield seniors.
“Moorefield was such a pleasure; remember the inter-county scene had more on or less from the mid-2000s onwards gone into the area when a team not only needed a manger but needed a trainer; needed a strength and conditioning coach, weights guy; it was gone to the point that instead of a team just needing a manager it needed a management team; clubs are like that now.
“But when I went to Moorefield you could now be in charge of 80-90 per cent of the training sessions; when Brian McGrogan came in, he was a great help; he would take the lads for their warm up session, and indeed, much more, he took care of all that kind of thing but Moorefield was a really enjoyable two years with back-to-back senior titles which was just incredible really.
“However I had to think then that for me this was going on relentlessly I was managing since 2004 non-stop; and really the driving was the real killer; to Carlow for four years; used to pick up Wayne Middleton in Kilcullen and carry on and then Moorefield practically the same drive and I said that's it, I will leave on a high.
“I knew Moorefield were a team so well organised from top to bottom, they would always be ticking over. Really any manager could go into Moorefield and have a good time; such a good set-up and so many good players.”
Luke recalled that he went from practically dragging players in a county set-up in Carlow, to being shocked at how many players would be on the pitch in Moorefield.
“A training session would never have any less than 26 and then peak in the summer with so many more in the dug-out. That's a manager's dream; and the competition for places was simply immense, but the sorry thing was when it came to the Leinster Club we were very shook with injuries, on both Leinster journeys and that certainly cost us dearly.”
“But” continued Dempsey, “you have to remember that the championship in Kildare is so tough; we were put to the pin of our collars to win those two championships and it took a lot out of the players.”
But I really loved my time with Moorefield and even from playing in the '80s, the Kildare set-up was always top class. The Leinster Leader Cup is a great competition for league football.
“I have had a taste of the club set-up in a few counties, Kildare is absolutely second to none; you know when the competitions are on; you know when you are playing and the matches are always played while the competition is absolutely teak tough because there are so many teams around the same level you could never predict with any certainty who would come out on top.
“You would have a fair idea with the likes of Moorefield, Sarsfields, Celbridge, Athy and a few more, always there or thereabouts, but you could never say with any certainty who was going to win it; any team that won the Kildare senior football championship had to be a good team; a team that played good football but as for Moorefield it is a club that will always be close to me, great folk, great players, great set-up.”
When Luke stepped away from Moorefield in 2014, he had more or less decided it was time for a rest; time to relax; time to stop the driving, week-in and week-out.
That was the plan but like many other plans along his illustrious career, it did not always work out that way.
It was not long before another club came knocking, this time it was on his doorstep as St Loman's of Mullingar arrived in search of a manger.
“I agreed to look after St Loman's for a year” he explains with a hearty laugh.
“But that year grow into three, four and then five but again I have to confess it was very enjoyable.”
It was more than just enjoyable though, it was success after success once again as St Loman's won the following three Westmeath senior football championships, making it five senior county titles five years on the trot, and in two different counties at that.
And ironically in that third year, 2017, St Loman's made it all the way to the Leinster Club decider, where they met?
You guessed it.
I can recall myself the first thing Luke said after winning the semi final, tongue in cheek no doubt: “I hope Moorefield don't go too hard on us in the final.”
That was the competitive instinct coming out immediately; getting in the early blow; attempting to put the opposition off their guard.
That final was one that will be recalled and relived for many a long day by both clubs but for very diverse reasons.
Moorefield led by three at the break but by the 37 minute St Loman's were three clear.
Time was ticking by, one minute plus five minutes added on, and Luke Dempsey's boys were five clear and preparing for their celebrations along the sideline.
Moorefield hit back, a Roli Sweeney goal and two points from Eanna O'Connor saw the sides level.
Extra time looked on.
Moorefield were awarded a free, the ball was brought forward for dissent when a Loman's sub stupidly kicked the ball away, Eanna O'Connor's free was heading left but Sweeney got a fist to it; Kevin Murnaghan gathered, swiveled, not for the first time, and sent over for an incredible win, 1-14 to 2-10.
Luke Dempsey always said, Moorefield are never beaten until you hear that long whistler.
And so it was.
“When I came here in 2015 (Loman's) I had maybe 12 or 13 lads training, that after coming from a set up in Kildare with Moorefield that rarely had less than 25 or 26; we never played challenges in Loman's because we could never guaranteed that we could field a team but then when the summer came, players would arrive back in; county lads would return, but such is life, but that was the difference between the two clubs.
“I have often been told we were so close in 2017, very unlucky in the end” said Dempsey, but I always reply, “Moorefield just do not know when they are beaten and so it proved.”
Dempsey stayed on for two more years with St Loman's, each year getting them to senior finals and while they lost both it meant that at that stage he had got Moorefield and St Loman's into seven county senior finals in a row, winning the first five, before losing the final two; if that is not some sort of a record I don't know what is.
So now it's back to Johnstownbridge; the wheel has turned full circle and the man with the Midas touch throughout his managerial career is heading back to where it all stated as a player where he won his first senior club title (and his second).
It was back in 1994 when Luke Dempsey first dipped his toe into management, and he has not been without a team, club and/or county since; and remember during his U21s days with Westmeath he also took charge of Longford Slashers in 1998; not forgetting Rochfordbridge and, of course, Leixlip in 2004.
“I don't really know how Mary (wife) and three kids put up with me” he laughs.
And so now to Johnstownbridge, and not ot for the first time Luke says “my parting shot” but then adds “sure we don't know how this year will end up now, and I might have to stay in Johnstownbridge in 2021 to give it a right proper go.”
Good players in JTB I remind him.
“Ye, there are, but good players have to be jelled into a good team ethic and that is what I am looking forward to doing when I get them (county players). I was looking forward to April when we had three games lined-up in the league, with the county players, but I am looking forward to the challenge whenever it gets up and running; if that turns out to be a rushed champion-
ship this year then there is always the following year, at least this year I will see what the Johnstownbridge team are up to.
“It is a great challenge; a lot of the players are sons of lads I would have played with, Cribbin's, Hurley's, McNally's, Doran's, and many more; great club man and their lads are all good club men now; so really looking forward to it.”
Kildare clubs should look out, Luke Dempsey is a winner, on many fronts; he is not going 'home' for nothing.
Taking Johnstownbridge back to the pinnacle, where they have not been since 1989, would be some icing on the cake for Luke Dempsey.
A lot of top class players in Johnstownbridge.
Stranger things have happened.
Don't rule it out!

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