When Gary Cunningham was appointed Westport Utd captain at the start of the season it was a huge moment in his career, and considering that he is the last line of their defence on Sunday there is added responsibility on his broad shoulders. There is also a new manager among them with the successful duo of James Fahy and Kieran Mulchrone stepping aside, leaving the reins to John Brennan.
It was a new experience for a lot of the Covies crew but one to which they were looking forward. “Starting off it was always going to be a change. We were so used to having the two boys who were unbelievable with us and always got the best out of us" said Cunningham.
“When John came in, he had his ways of playing from his League of Ireland experience. He knew the way we wanted to play and the way he wanted to play and it just blended together and eventually it got going mid-season.”
Their semi-final win over Claremorris in many ways stands out as a focal point in their season after forcing extra-time and then pulling a last minute winner out of the hat. “That’s cup football. League football goes out the window and you’ve got everything to play for. Claremorris came to us and they were underdogs and they just played out of their skin. They had a never-say-die attitude,” Cunningham said.
Thoughts then turned to the challenge on Sunday and what Manulla will bring to the table. “It’s the big one all right and the one we’ve been aiming for after the Super League," he added. "They have had a great season. They won the Westaro Cup earlier in the season and they are a real football team. They are attacking minded and all that and we are not taking anything for granted and I know we’ll be going in as favourites after winning the league and everything.”
Durkan ready to deliver
One of the elder statesmen in the Manulla camp Gary Durkan knows the size of the task they face on Sunday. “It’s going to be a tough game I suppose, but these are the games that we play and train all year for to try and beat the best, and Westport are quite rightly the best at the minute" he opined.
“They are the best team around and a lot of teams including ourselves would certainly be looking up to them to try and get to their level. On the day it will depend on what team turns up for ourselves. We have to be confident in our own game plan and not get distracted by Westport.”
After using their get out jail card against Straide and Foxford earlier in their cup run, it was the kick-start to their season he says. “Maybe if it was a year earlier we might have actually lost that game, but there is good camaraderie within the squad. Everyone is kind of chipping in and there is a confidence there. We are never really beaten which is a good sign. Even in the semi-final we put in a super performance against a good Castlebar Celtic team and we battled our way to get that victory. It shows a bit of resolve this year. We have a great backbone in the squad this year which I suppose is a step on from last year.”
It is fair to say that Manulla are building something big that will hopefully match the production lines similar to those experienced by the Covies. “We are kind of on a journey where Westport would have started a number of years ago. We are hoping to reach where Westport are now, but we are just on the start of that journey. All going well on Sunday, the lads will lift to the occasion and we will give Westport a good game.”
Manulla will be carrying the underdogs' tag on Sunday, but Durkan feels they have players to give Westport one or two headaches. “We have players there that would give any team around some problems. We have six players involved with the Oscar Traynor team this year which is a massive step up for the club.”
It would represent a huge scalp for Tom Healy and his troops on Sunday, but they face an enormous challenge to turn over the cream of Mayo club football. “Anything can happen on the day and if we turn up with our game plan and we execute it as we should and hopefully we know we can, then it should be a cracking game.”