HE has a dream.
He has a dream that one day his county will rise up and live out the true meaning of his belief: “Kildare can win an All-Ireland.”
He has a dream that one day former Lilywhites and the sons of former Lilywhites will be able to sit down together at Sam Maguire’s table.
He has a dream that one day the players of his county will play in a competition where they will not be judged by the colour of their jerseys but by the content of their success.
He has a dream today. And everyday. Since he was a boy playing football for his county, Pat Mangan has dreamed about Kildare winning an All-Ireland.
If Pat Mangan had his way, he wouldn’t be here. He wouldn’t spend his days chasing people for money or convincing anyone who’ll listen that his county is good enough to win the ultimate prize in Gaelic football. He’d much rather chase a little white ball around the golf course that sits behind his left shoulder. But as much as he loves his golf, it can’t match his passion for football.
“I would give anything to see Kildare win an All-Ireland.”
The dream started when he made an under-14 Kildare football team in the 1950s. In his head he was already plotting the journey down the road: the minors in four years and from there to the seniors. At 19 years of age he was further along than he ever could have imagined. The introduction of the under-21 championship couldn’t have come at a better time for Mangan and Kildare. He was midfield on the county team that won the first ever All-Ireland at that grade but between then and his retirement in 1979, his pursuit of the dream never got beyond Leinster.
“Your ambition is to play club, then county and then the All-Ireland; I dreamed that dream and I thought I was getting close to it at one stage and it was a huge disappointment to me not to have even won a Leinster.”
Goodness knows the Kildare teams of that era came close to winning a provincial championship but the class of ’65 never repeated their success at senior level. And yet for all their failures, much worse was to come in the 1980s. By the end of the decade, Kildare football had reached a nadir. Losing an O’Byrne Cup game to Kilkenny was the low point but you had plenty to pick from.
“We were at an all-time low,” says Mangan, almost wincing at the thought. “It was very depressing for everyone.”
Though the county couldn’t see it, and the rest of the country wouldn’t have believed it, there was a new dawn about to rise. Through the fog of Kevin Heffernan’s cigarette smoke, Kildare were about to glimpse a bright new future.
The former Dublin manager would advise them but he refused to guide them. He made that clear when Mangan called to see if he would come to meet a group of ambitious Kildare men. In time they would become the driving force of the county’s supporters’ club but they didn’t know that then. All they did was attend a meeting at a stud farm.
Michael Osborne called the meeting at Kildangan stud. His work for Sheikh Mohammed meant that he often travelled to Woodpark Stud in Co Meath as well. Although Kildare fans mightn’t have enjoyed watching Meath win all around them while the Lilies languished, it was to prove an inspiration for Osborne.
When he witnessed the flags and the bunting and the colour across the Meath border, he wondered if it couldn’t happen in his own county.
“He brought a lot of people who were interested in the welfare of Kildare football, business people really,” says Mangan. “Out of that, the supporters’ club started and a committee was formed.”
A manager was the first item on the agenda and two names were considered: Heffernan and his Kerry nemesis, Mick O’Dwyer.
It was Heffernan who got the call first but he wasn’t of a mind to take on the job. Instead he did something far more valuable.
“He was incredible to listen to,” says Mangan, “to talk how bad things were in Dublin and how low they were when he came in. He decided to set about changing everything. He put together the panel, some of them weren’t that talented but they were big, strong, intelligent guys that would listen and do what they were told to do. And they were committed.”
For a county at such a low ebb it was unsurprising that they failed to land their first catch but no one could have imagined who would be on the end of their next cast. Mick O’Dwyer would lead Kildare back into the light.
“I don’t want this to be about me, I want this to be about raising money to help Kildare football.”
Since that first meeting with Michael Osborne in 1990, it’s only ever been about helping Kildare football. That’s why Pat Mangan is sitting here in October, 2011, as the chairman of Club Kildare promoting their latest fundraiser.
On Saturday (29 October) Kildare’s senior footballers will host supporters at Naas racecourse. The race day is just the latest fundraising drive and not for the first time, the players have been the ones doing the driving.
“There isn’t one county in Ireland where you would get the players to raise what they have raised,” says Mangan. “There’s not one county that has done it to the same extent.”
When O’Dwyer took over Kildare, the place started hopping and it was only when he finally finished up as manager some 13 years later in 2002 that the county stopped buzzing. By any standards it was an epic journey but of all the obscene demands placed on players during his infamous and torturous training sessions, O’Dwyer never expected his side to finance things.
Drawing comparisons between O’Dwyer and current manager Kieran McGeeney might sound ridiculous but both men have brought about a culture shock. In their different ways, both men broke the mould in Kildare. Mangan has witnessed it first hand.
“Look at the money he (Kieran) has helped to raise; he drives the thing.”
O’Dwyer never had to – Michael Osborne and the supporters’ club had made it their mission to support the cause.
“We ran a draw; there was a racehorse and you owned it for a year – that was the top prize. There was a six month draw, there was a car; these were 100-pound-a-ticket kind of thing. When you look back at the prizes; it’s scary. We’re running a draw on a shoestring (now).”
They once had a draw where the top prize was a new Mercedes car. The scale of the county’s ambition had been completely altered – on and off the pitch.
In 2007, 17 years after O’Dwyer’s supernova ride began, Kieran McGeeney came to Kildare to take them on another rollercoaster. O’Dwyer brought a fanfare. McGeeney armed the players with tools to start building from scratch.
Four years later the players have their own gym at the K Club, built with their own hands. They’ve held white collar boxing nights, golf classics and sponsored waxes. The theme park is dripping with their own sweat and blood.
“It’s like everything in life; if it comes too easy you don’t appreciate it,” says Mangan. From Club Kildare’s point of view, it’s never been easy.
When Michael Osborne stepped aside from the supporters’ club soon after O’Dwyer’s departure he asked Mangan to take it over.
“Pat, we can’t let this die,” he told him but sadly Osborne was to pass away in 2005, never to witness what he dreamed about all those years ago when Meath were winning All-Irelands in the late ’80s.
Mangan continues that vision today, having chaired Club Kildare since its inception.
The mission remains much the same – to help Kildare win an All-Ireland except Club Kildare helps to fund all county teams now, in hurling and football.
The idea, like the current manager, came from the north. Mangan’s daughter Karen was living in Cookstown, having married into a fanatical Tyrone family. Club Tyrone offered membership for 500 pound sterling and for that you got a jacket, a certificate and the assurance that you were helping to support the cause. It helped supporters feel a part of the whole thing.
“It was very, very successful; there’s a different mentality up there. If you’re into GAA up there they’re very, very staunch supporters and prepared to put their money up.”
Mangan and Dermot Reilly met the committee that ran Club Tyrone and set about launching Club Kildare. It would cost €300 for an individual and €600 for a corporate membership.
“It went very well in the first two years; we were well over €100,000 on it; we were giving €100,000 every year to the county board to support all the teams. Initially the supporters’ club was set up to support the senior team to help them win an All-Ireland. The hurlers never felt a part of this. This (Club Kildare) is to raise money to support all of the GAA; from under-14 up, hurling and football. The county board administer it and that’s really what Club Kildare was all about.”
It hasn’t always been plain sailing as supporters felt the amount of money was a big ask. Some just felt it just wasn’t value for money.
“I don’t know how anyone can say they don’t get enough for their money because up the north they get a once off jacket and that’s it. You get into all our home matches in Newbridge, all county games, league and championships; all inter-county matches plus all your club championship matches. On top of that you have the option to buy two tickets to all Kildare championship games if it’s an all ticket match whether it’s first round of the championship or Leinster final. We’re giving exceptional value. You get the option to buy two tickets right up to the All-Ireland final. If Kildare get to an All-Ireland final, you’re guaranteed your All-Ireland tickets.”
Given the fact Kildare have only played in one All-Ireland final since 1935, it sounds like a big if. Mangan has always seen things in a different light.
“We’re driving on to win an All-Ireland, come whatever obstacles get in our way and drive them out of the way.”
Under McGeeney it’s been a scrapbook of nearly stories but Mangan senses something special is on the horizon again.
“He (McGeeney) has made huge progress, he’s within touching distance of an All-Ireland; you can’t back off now; whatever money it takes. I think we’re on the verge of making it happen and we have to drive on.”
As a player, with club and county, Mangan says he ‘never accepted we weren’t as good as the best.’ Today he believes Kildare should be winning a minimum of two All-Irelands every decade – ‘based on the talent and the population.’
So why hasn’t it happened before now.
“Because we were asleep for 80 years and we didn’t wake up and say this is what has to be done; we sat back and were lazy.”
The county couldn’t be accused of being lax now. The training has never been as intense and the commitment is incredible. And on Saturday the players will be at Naas racecourse to meet the supporters, helping Mangan to keep Club Kildare going strong.
“I’m only doing this because I would give anything to see Kildare win an All-Ireland. It’s the only thing that could keep you going.”
The dream never escapes his mind.