Over the next couples of months we will be hearing from and talk to former Belvo players now playing/managing in the League of Ireland. This week, former Belvedere player Dave O’Connor looks back on his time with Belvo.
Written by David O’Connor, questions and edited by Jamie Moore
Having played for my local club Trim Celtic up to Under 13 level, my move to Belvo came about in 2005 on the back of representing the North Eastern Counties Schoolboys League in the prestigious Kennedy Cup in Limerick. After a personally successful tournament with the N.E.C.S.L, I was invited to attend a trial with Belvedere FC in preparation for the upcoming Under 14 DDSL season. My earliest memories of that time were without doubt my very first training session in my new surroundings, which revolved a series of intricate passing drills used to examine the technical ability of each of the trialists. Thankfully, after successfully negotiating my way through a series of ‘one touch, pass and move’ drills (the ‘Belvo Way’!) I was asked to sign on the dotted line with Belvo and so began what would become an incredibly successful schoolboy career!
One of the most startling things that immediately struck me upon joining Belvo was how high the standards were at my new club. From training sessions, team mates, and coaching staff, it was clear to me that I was at one of the best clubs in the country. Leaving a very successful local Trim Celtic team had provided me with a solid foundation, however the standard of football and players at Belvo was strikingly obvious to me from the outset.
Travelling up from Trim was always going to be a huge challenge for me, from training several times a week during my Junior Cert and Leaving Cert, to having to try gel into a Dublin team as a proud Meath man!! To be honest though, settling into the new dressing was made particularly easy for me as I soon realised that I was one of several new signings of players from outside the capital. This group soon became known as the Belvo ‘culchies’, and included some very talented players from throughout the country including Jason Finn, Stephen Relihan, Neil Harney and Garvan Broughal, all of whom signed alongside me in 2005.
My first few seasons at Belvo were by no means an easy ride. In fact during my first two seasons my playing time was very limited such was the quality of our squad. After only a handful of appearances in my first season, as an attacking left winger I might add, I was faced with the decision of whether or not it was worth my while to continue playing in Dublin and instead search for a club at a lower level where perhaps I would have played more often. However, such is my stubbornness, and also my confidence in my own ability and ambition, I decided to remain at Belvo and what a great decision that turned out to be! The beginning of the Under 16 season marked me cementing a place in the team on a full time basis at left back. In the end staying at Belvo, even during the first couple of seasons was a no-brainer, playing with the best young players in the country and receiving the very, very best training coaching and management in the whole country.
Throughout my time at Belvo we were lucky enough to be involved in a number of team trips and pre-season tournaments. Trips which stand out vividly in my mind were our trip to Sunderland academy where we played twice against the best underage players that Sunderland could throw at us. Another trip which stands out is the 2006 Milk Cup where among others we played against CSKA Moscow, Crewe Alexandra and Everton, taking more than a few considerable scalps along the way before eventually ending the tournaments as winners of the Milk Cup Shield.
Without doubt the most abiding memory of my four seasons at Belvo was the 2006 SFAI Cup All Ireland Final against our closest rivals, Crumlin United. Having started the game on the bench, and having sat through what was an incredibly tense 80 minutes of end to end football from the two best schoolboy teams in the country, I was sprung from the bench to try to make an impact.
The game was poised at 3-3 in extra time, and both teams were running on empty. With a minute of extra time remaining and both teams seemingly content to let the game be decided by the dreaded penalty shootout, the script was suddenly altered drastically. A hopeful long ball forward resulted in a flick on by our centre forward Dave Lodola which seemed destined for the Crumlin goalkeeper’s arms as he came storming out of his goal. Luck was obviously on our side the faithful evening in Whitehall, as the ball somehow hung in the air, giving me just enough time to leap (all 5 foot nothing of me!), close my eyes and get the slightest of touches on my head, enough to glance the ball over the on-rushing keeper and into the unguarded net for the winning goal. Cue a terrible goal celebration by myself (see pic), and an eruption of celebrations from our dug out!
The following seasons brought further success and medals. The Under 16 and 17 seasons brought with them 2 DDSL Premier League titles. The Under 17 season was particularly successful as not only did we go the entire DDSL season unbeaten, we also had our second FAI All Ireland triumph, as we beat Kilmallock of Limerick 3-1 in the final in Tolka Park. Although it may not have been quite as dramatic as our 2006 final, no last minute extra time goal required thankfully, our second All Ireland success was equally as sweet as it was our final game together as a group.
The Under 17 All Ireland win reinstated our position as the most successful team of our age group in the country but it also acted as a fitting end for an incredibly successful group of players and management that won two DDSL League titles, Two All Ireland winning cups and a prestigious Milk Cup medal over a four year period!!
Over that four year period I was lucky enough to play with some brilliantly talented players, many of whom now are scattered throughout the League of Ireland, including Gary Burke (UCD), Stephen Traynor (Bohemians) and Neil Harney (Athlone Town), and also the likes of Paul Corry and Jimmy Keohane who are both plying their trade in England with Sheffield Wednesday and Exeter City respectively. Playing with players of that standard throughout my days at Belvo undoubtedly helped develop me enormously as a player. However, while my team mates played a significant role in our successes as a group and my own individual development, I would not be anywhere near where I am today without the incredible management team that guided us all the way from Under 14 to Under 17. Among ‘Dream Team’ of management we were lucky enough to be under were John and Jamie Moore, Gerry Brown, Kieran and Darragh O’Reilly and of course the Alex Ferguson of Irish schoolboy football, Mr Belvedere Jimmy Jackson.
My post Belvo route has thankfully brought me down a successful path into the League of Ireland, while also enabling me to further my education. On the back of the successful Under 17 season with Belvo, I secured a soccer scholarship in UCD. During my four years at U.C.D I managed to obtain an Honours Degree in Geography, History and Economics and also a Masters Degree in Geography which I completed last August. While completing my college academics, I also pursued my football career. The scholarship system at UCD allowed me to obtain my degree and master while also allowing me to play at the highest level in the country with UCD AFC. in the League of Ireland, under the astute guidance of Martin Russell and Dermot McNally.
Four seasons with UCD brought with them numerous successes, including three Collingwood Cup victories (the All Ireland competition for universities), four successful years in the top flight of the League of Ireland and almost 100 first team appearances, during which I was converted to a centre back. As with my Belvo days, I was lucky enough to find myself in a UCD dressing room that was crammed with some of the best young players in the country. This in turn resulted in four very successful years as a group of young players, under a management staff, who like Belvo, promoted playing an attractive style of football which let each player express themselves and develop to their full potential.
Becoming A Hoop
The end of the 2013 season marked the end of my playing days with UCD and began a new chapter in my footballing journey. Last December I signed with Shamrock Rovers under the management of Trevor Croly. Trevor was a huge factor in me joining, like Martin Russell, he is a former Belvo player. They are both very similar managers in terms of their ethos on playing football the right way, and in the quality of their training sessions and how they deal with their players. For the last ten years, I have only ever played under Belvo people, with John and Jimmy at Belvo, and then Martin at UCD and now Trevor at Rovers.
Having signed a two year contract with Rovers, we completed a challenging, yet thoroughly enjoyable pre-season. The League of Ireland season is just under way, and so-far so-good! Thankfully we remain unbeaten in our opening round of fixtures and sit at the top of the table.
We have a great blend of youth and experience in our squad and are extremely hopeful to sustain a prominent challenge on all fronts this season, both in the league and the cup. Personally I have settled straight into the new dressing room, which, as with almost every dressing room I have been lucky to sit in, is full of gifted players. I am very much looking forward to continuing to develop as a player in my new surroundings at Rovers and having a very successful season, whatever obstacles and challenges present themselves along the way. Playing full time football was always a dream and ambition of mine and thankfully I am currently living out that dream at Rovers.
What I can say for certain though is that the seeds of those dreams first took bloom when I first stepped onto the hallowed turf of Fairview Park as an eager, stubborn and cocky young 13 year old in the famous Belvo Blue. And for that I will forever be thankful of Belvo!
Thanks to David for the time and effort he put into writing this piece, next up we will talk to Bohemians first team coach Graham O'Hanlon.