On Sunday afternoon one of the greats of Ardnaree's past Fr Peter Quinn will be laid to rest in St Patrick's cemetery in Kilglass. The current crop of Ardnaree players will be hoping that by the time Fr Quinn, who won All Ireland medals with Mayo in 1950 and 51, is laid to rest they will have followed in his footsteps and walked the staircase in Croke Park and become All Ireland champions.
The man who will lead them out into battle on Saturday against the Kerry and Munster champions Templenoe is Eoin McCormack, and it's the stuff of Boys Own dreams, he told the Mayo Advertiser last week when we caught up in Ardnaree ahead of the final. "Hopes and dreams have come true for lots of lads here in Ardnaree, a lot of us at this stage in our careers didn't think we'd be getting to Croke Park, but we're here now and we plan to enjoy it and turn over Templeone on Saturday."
There was no time for over indulging in the celebrations following their win over Ulster champions Rockcorry a fortnight ago with quick turnaround to Saturday's game, but that is just the way McCormack and his team-mates wanted it. "After Clifden in the Connacht final it seemed like an age to wait for a crack at Rockcorry, so it's nice to have a two week turnaround just to the final and it sets the concentration and keeps us alert and focused at the task at hand."
It has been a long road for Ardnaree to finally taste success at junior level, losing four county finals in a short space of time before they finally put that to right last season. The foundations of that success were laid this time last year after a very disappointing 2014 McCormack explained. "2014 wasn't a year that went very well from the start and we'd about six or seven lads that went to America, we'd a record number of cruciate injuries, there are five players on the team that all had cruciate operations and they were all gone. So we were down to the bare bones in 2014. At the end of January last year then we had a meeting, and all the players just decided that you know you're not going to be playing football all your life and give it one more serious effort and give it what you can, and we really put in the effort in training and the focus was there from the beginning and it's paid off."
Ardnaree have been free flowing and racking up high scores all year in the championship, but that success comes from a very solid base at the back that creates the space for their attackers to thrive according to their captain. "I suppose we did hit some high scores, but our defence is the back bone of the team because they set the pace and it's from them breaking out of defence that sets us off and the quality we have back there and the delivery into us, they'd be giving out to us if we weren't hitting the target. We do focus on shooting, once we got fit it was all ball work we were doing in training, and all practicing the basic skills and ensuring that they are right. Everyone knows their roles and duties and everyone stuck to them this year and it's worked out."
Planning for every eventuality
Playing in division 1B in the league was also a serious addition their arsenal when it came to championship football according to McCormack. "When we were beating teams and putting up big scores, we kind of knew that we were moving well. We were playing at a good high level in the league and we were stretched in every game in the league, and put to the pin of our collars by teams that were a few grades above us at times, and when we went down and played the junior teams in championship, we maintained that intensity and work rate that we had put in against the bigger teams in the league. It really did help us, you have to bring your game every week against the intermediate and senior teams, everyone has to bring their A game, you can't afford to be off the pace or mucking around the night or weeks before. It does focus you on the job."
In their semi-final win, Ardnaree did the heavy lifting in the first half and when Rockcorry were reduced to 13 players in the second half they were in two minds how to see out the game, but that is something they will have worked on ahead of tomorrow's contest to ensure they do not fall into the same trap again. "It happens a lot of teams, when a team goes down to 14 players, but when they go down to 13 players we didn't really have a game plan for that, but it's something we will correct if it does happen again. The first half we had the wind and we wanted to have it with us so we could filter back any time they had the ball, and then we hit them by delivering long balls into the corner and worked it from there. Myself, I'm probably not the quickest inside but Ronan Doherty and Chris Walsh have absolute pace to burn, and they are huge outlets for the half backs, they can just look up and kick it anywhere if they see the two guys running, there is rarely a defender that will stay with them. They are good ball winners and it usually sticks inside, so it creates space."
As for the feeling around the streets on the Ardnaree side of the Moy, the buzz has been building up nicely according to McCormack. "It's huge, it picked up after the county final and it's just grown since then. It's great for all the kids and familes around here, everyone has bought into and got on board. It seems to be nearly a miracle to some people that we've got here and they can't wait, as players we're just looking forward to the game and getting to go out and do it in Croke Park."
As for what he most looks to forward to come tomorrow's game, it is the one thing that everyone dreams of doing: "Running out on Jones Road it's going to be something, all kids and players of all ages dream of having the chance to do that and thank God I can get do that." As for having a speech written just in case, McCormack will have it ready because he believes his dreams will come true. "I haven't it written just yet, but I'm definitely going to have something because I am confident that we will win on Saturday." Why is he confident they will win? It's because they are fully focused on their own game and not their opponents. "We'll discuss them all right, but we won't be concentrating solely on them, we know their danger men and that, but we'll focus on our game and keep doing what we've been doing all season, and practice our own game and different scenarios that may happen, it doesn't matter who you're playing against, you'll apply the same principles and put in the hard graft and see where it takes us."
Hopefully it will take him up the steps in the Hogan Stand.