Olaf’s back in the big time

by James Hendicott

When Naomh Olaf open their Dublin AFL 1 campaign this Sunday, they’ll be taking the final steps on a meteoric rise up the county’s footballing divisions.

Olaf’s climbed out of division three after a play off in 2016, and went up the same way in 2017, having just failed to gain automatic promotion.

Having led division two for much of the year last time out, the club lost to Raheny in the final game of the regular league season, the result handing Ballinteer St John’s the first promotion slot.

They then had to play Na Fianna in a play off, and turned them over to secure a lauded return to the top tier.

Heading into their third ever Division 1 season (and first in over a decade), Olaf’s chair of the Adult Game’s Committee John McGrath believes the team will have plenty of confidence, though their aims will be modest.

“I think if you’d ask me about our aims last year, I’d have said we’d have been happy staying in Division 2, and we ended up going up,” he said to the Dublin Gazette.

“I guess this year the aim is to consolidate our place in Division 1, though I’m not sure the boys would agree with that.

“They’ve only lost three or four leagues games in two years, so they’re confident bunch, and they’ll be approaching it with bigger ambitions.

“I do think we’ll be stronger this time out,” McGrath continues. “We had six players who came from out of our minors into the team last year and they have that experience now. They’ll be stronger from that year, and there are a couple of others that we expect to come through during this year.”

The side will be starting the new season under a new boss, however, with Shane Smith having stepped away after taking Olaf’s from the third tier to the first during his three years in charge.

“People move on, and that’s the nature of it, but we’re well under way under [new manager] Pat Stephens, the players have been on the go since early January, and they’ll be determined to make the most of this,” McGrath says.

“Our two junior teams were both promoted last season so it’s going well all round. They’re now in division seven and division ten, and we’d be looking to get the second team to around division four or five, to improve the standard of football at the club overall. It’s all about renewal.”

To date, that strategy seems to be working well.

Naomh Olaf’s season begins with a game against another fast-rising club in the world of Dublin football, Castleknock, with the game scheduled for 10.15am on Sunday morning at Castleknock’s Somerton ground.

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