'Chance of a lifetime' for Connacht football champions Oughterard footballers after

Connacht Intermediate Football Champions Oughteard are now focusing on an All Ireland semi-final.

Connacht Intermediate Football Champions Oughteard are now focusing on an All Ireland semi-final.

"Christmas comes every year, but to play in an All-Ireland semi-final for your club, more than likely will only happen once in your life. This is the chance of a lifetime," says a buoyant Tommy Finnerty, Oughterard intermediate football manager.

Having secured their place in the final after a 1-16 to 0-11 win over Mayo champions The Neale, Finnerty insists his players will have no issues focusing during the festive period on a January semi-final, or indeed will not be distracted by the promise of senior football in 2020.

"To be honest, all we're focusing on is the all-Ireland semi-final. We're not thinking about next year. Next year will look after itself. It's 100 per cent concentration now on the All-Ireland semi-final."

Now in his second season as intermediate manager, Finnerty is a man ingrained in the fabric of Oughterard GAA, and the success of his youthful side can perhaps be traced to his deep understanding of players he has mentored for more than a decade.

"I've been involved with this [intermediate[ team for seven of the last 10 years, as a selector and as a trainer, and I would have coached all the guys from underage, basically from under eights, all the way up to minor. So I've had a long association with this team going back about 12 years. The age profile of the team is young. We have some very talented players, but above all, we have very honest players and that's what it comes down to."

Finnerty also cites the squad's unrivalled dedication as a contributing factor to the team's success on the field.

"I suppose it's maybe eight or nine months ago now the penny dropped for me that not one of our panel had travelled away for the summer. I think we're the only club in the county where no player travelled away for the summer to America. It can be very disruptive when players go away to the States to play football, to work or to travel. To be honest, I've yet to see a player come back in better condition than when they left, so for me having 100 percent of our squad all year round was a huge factor for us."

"Secondly, the players really matured this year. There was a huge change in culture. The simple things like attendance and commitment at training. The lads really brought into it, so that was huge for us.

"The first sign I saw of change was leading up to our group game against Mícheal Breathnachs. That day we were seven points down at half time, it was 3-5 to 7 points. And yet we turned it around and we won the game by two points, so that was a fantastic turnaround."

Oughterard were crowned Connacht intermediate football champions for the first time after a resounding victory over The Neale on Saturday evening in McHale Park, Castlebar. After a tense and cagey first half, the game was balanced on a knife edge at 0-7 apiece. However, Oughterard came alive in the second period to run out eight-point victors. Man of the match Matthew Tierney hit the back of the net, while his brother Enda was flawless from dead-ball situations, converting three difficult frees. A standout individual performance saw the Neale's danger-man, Tommy Conroy, or "Tommy Goals" as Finnerty dubs him, held to just a single point by Eddie O'Sullivan. This impressive defensive display from the Galway champions, as well as their ability to keep the scoreboard ticking over, was enough to seal a comfortable win.

"The lads just dug deeper, they found an extra gear," says Finnerty, attributing much of his side's success to their clinical prowess in front of the posts.

"Our free-taking was excellent, it was top drawer again. Enda [Tierney] kicked a few huge frees, he kicked one free that I think put us up something like three or four points. They're the killer blows really."

Having now won the Connacht title, Finnerty and his side will be waiting to see who is victorious in the Munster final, with Templenoe of Kerry set to face Clare’s St Breckan’s. Templenoe have four members of the Kerry senior panel in their ranks, Killian and Adrian Spillane along with Gavin Crowley and Tadhg Morley, and should provide formidable opposition for the Connacht champions should they progress past their provincial opponents.

"Celebrations have died down now. We've let the lads have a two-week break. Because it's eight weeks to the All-Ireland semi-final, we need to refresh the minds, refresh the bodies, and we'll be going back at it in two weeks."

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