John Flanagan: “I had no intention of playing for Ardee Celtic!”
Ardee Celtic welcome St Kevin’s Boys to Townparks on Friday evening, big opponents for a big night as the Deesiders play their first competitive game under their brand new Friday night lights. Player-coach John Flanagan is confident Celtic can spring a surprise.
Famed for bringing Irish internationals – and Heroes of Cardiff – Jeff Hendrick and Robbie Brady through their youth ranks, the Whitehall-based side are a big name to draw in the Leinster Senior Cup and last month, Ardee Celtic were the lucky – or unlucky, depending on how full your glass is – pairing.
St Kevins’ senior side obviously have no players of Hendrick’s or Brady’s repute in the senior team, but they will represent the sternest test of Celtic’s standing so far this season. The Ardee men have one and lost one in two league outings, while earning progress in the Kilmessan Shield, FAI Junior Cup and Leinster Senior Cup, the competition in which they face St Kevins on Friday.
Speaking to ThisIsArdee.ie this week, player-coach John Flanagan says Celtic’s start to the campaign has been a promising one – but with players to still come into the fold, there is more to come from his side.
“We’re at stage were we haven’t had first XI on the field,” he told us. “Ross Gaynor hasn’t played, Stuart Osbourne has played one game and William Woods has played 20 minutes. A lot of people have to come back and that can only drive things on further. I’d be very confident of that team getting into the top half of the table in the league and possibly pushing on. We could go on a cup run too.
“St Kevins will be a good barometer for us,” the former Dundalk FC stalwart says. “It will be a big night for us. The more games we play, the more we’ll unite as a team.”
It will be a big night in more ways than one. Playing under new floodlights for the first time, this fixture marks a move from Sunday morning football to the Friday night variety for the club, a move viewed as highly beneficial to the club and the players.
The match could also mark the debut of Ross Gaynor, with the ex-Dundalk, Sligo Rovers, Cork City and Linfield player having to had wait for his first team debut for the club as international clearance made it’s way to the Bog via snail mail. Aged 30, he last turned out for the club at 16 before embarking on a professional career in the UK and Ireland.
Flanagan, who is at the helm of the seniors alongside manager Conor Lynch, believes Gaynor can prove the difference between a season of struggle and one of great promise.
“He adds a huge amount of quality to the team going forward, it’s very positive at the minute to have him on board,” Flanagan says. “We’ve had him training with us for five or six weeks and even having him at training, the level and the quality has gone up. The young lads can learn off him – his whole approach, his timekeeping, his commitment, his professionalism – it’s excellent.”
His acquisition – alongside that of brother Darryn and fellow striker William Woods and left back Ciaran Clarke – are all timely after Ardee Celtic’s surprise promotion to the Premier Division at the end of July. Flanagan says objectives had to change at Townparks after Navan Cosmos’ withdrawal and Celtic’s move up the pyramid.
“It was a funny one. We all sat down at the start of the year and we were in the First Division and we felt very confident of getting out of it,” he tells us. “But now in the Premier, we need that little bit extra. Hopefully Ross is the man to provide that. He really wants to play in his local team, he has that quality and there’s a lot of lads there who can feed off him – Darryn, William Woods and young Gazza (Kane) and Mario (James McMullen).
“If he can give them the service, hopefully they can score the goals.”
Like Gaynor, Flanagan is an FAI Cup winner, his win coming at the old Lansdowne Road with Dundalk in 2002. Having retired from League of Ireland football with the Lilywhites in 2008, here is playing almost a decade later aged 39. But that wasn’t necessarily the plan when he arrived.
I had no intention of playing when I first arrived,” he reveals. “No intention at all – but the way it’s panned out with the Gaelic, we were short on the ground. I put my hand up and probably a bit foolishly I always want to play. As long as the body holds, I’ll keep going.”
So far, so good for the new arrival to Celtic. He’s been a key man in early league, cup and shield competition. So far he’s played in central defence, midfield and even as an auxiliary striker against Trim Celtic last month.
“The legs mightn’t be there but the head never goes away. You get talking to the likes of Kenneth (Thornton) and Reno (Robbie Reynolds) at the back. They’re very good players but maybe the one thing they fall down on is talking and being heard. I think if I’ve a voice at the back and Ross has one further up the field, it really solidifies things and that will maybe guide and help lads along.
“There’s an excellent crop of young lads coming up there. There’s some fantastic players and I’m sure some will be playing with us this year,” he continues. “The more good people that can get talking to them and take them under their wing, they will only develop quicker.
“The club is fantastic. Right from the ground up, everything is done right. You can see that – David Martin has done a great job with the kids. The senior set up is excellent, the training facilities are brilliant. From my own point of view, I came in and I was looking after coaching and training. The lads are great. They came in and gave 100% – and they listened.
“When we came up first, our aim was not to be looking over our shoulder – that’d we’d be safe. But having played Boyne Harps and Trim Celtic, two teams who would fancy themselves to be there or thereabouts come the end of it, I think we’re more than capable of competing with any of the teams.”
First up – with a full panel of players to choose from – on Friday, is St Kevins Boys. The match kicks off at 8pm at Townparks.