As much as it pained them to drop down a championship grade, Melvin Gaels captain David McSharry believes that the year spent in the Intermediate competition has rejuvenated the Kinlough club as they head into a mouth-watering derby against Glencar/Manorhamilton next Sunday in Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada.
Melvin Gaels have journeyed from relegation to the intermediate championship to this year’s Senior Final and David, leading Melvin Gaels for the second year in a row in a County Final, believes that the work put in to escape the Intermediate grade has stood the Gaels in good stead.
“We knew last year we had to put in the hard work and get back to Senior level and once we got back to Senior, we knew we had a squad and the players with the quality to contest for a Senior Championship. “Maybe we were going through the motions a little bit, we were reaching quarter-finals and semi-finals without actually seeing it through and going on. It is ten years since we’ve been to a County Final and with the players that has been produced around this area, we’d feel we should have won a few more since 98.”
The arrival of Billy Gavigan as manager is another turning point according to David – “We’ve been there over the years, quarter-finals, semi-finals, possibly could have done a little bit better but whatever Billy has since he came in, he seems to have the right ingredients as we keep getting to County Finals.”
And the impact of that Intermediate win last year has huge benefits for the Gaels, particularly when it comes to dealing with the big occasion next Sunday – “I think the Intermediate Final will stand to us, it is the same sort of hype. Obviously, it is going to be a bigger day but last year will stand to us. There are a lot of young lads on the team and they got a taste for it last year.
“Once you get a taste for winning, anyone will tell you that you get a liking for it. That hunger is there again, we want to reach the top of Leitrim football and I suppose stopping Manor going for five is bonus enough.”
If stopping Glencar/Manor’s bid for history is incentive enough, David is realistic enough to know that facing Melvin Gaels will give their neighbours added motivation – “The talk of this drive for five, they’re talking it down a good bit but the fact that it is Melvin Gaels is incentive enough, they won’t like to see it coming down to Manorhamilton on the way to Kinlough and if that is not incentive enough for them, I don’t know what is.”
Melvin Gaels odds narrowed dramatically after their semi-final destruction of Aughawillan but David believes the seeds of that performance were sown against Bornacoola in the quarter-final - “Bornacoola, in fairness to them, are a good championship team.
“They are a strong physical side, they really came at us and maybe we were asleep there for a wee while but they are the kind of games you need to be coming through. Maybe three or four years ago, we would have lost that game and that just shows the sort of character that maybe wasn’t in the team a few years ago.
“I’d say Aughawillan probably have Bornacoola to thank for the semi-final. It sort of woke us up a bit, we knew we couldn’t wait for 20 minutes or half an hour to start games come the semi-final of a championship. On the day, things went well for us, we started well and we opened up.”
A lot of young Melvin Gaels players have caught the eye and David sees a future at county level for some of his team-mates – “It is a great honour to represent your county, there is definitely the talent down here. There are four or five of the lads already established with Leitrim, there are two or three of the younger lads that I’m sure will be coming through.”
Asked if their semi-final performance makes Melvin Gaels favourites, David seems pretty non-plussed by it all – “It depends how you look at it, we felt we worked hard, we did everything right and stuck to our game-plan, not much more can be asked you know.
“Winning a semi-final and winning it like that breeds confidence for a team and confidence to the players, a lot of fellows kicked a good few scores that day. It depends on what way you want to read it.”
With emigration devastating a lot of clubs at the moment, Melvin Gaels are lucky not to have been too badly hit so far but David believes that the Kinlough men must strike while the iron is hot as nobody knows what the future will hold.
“We’re fortunate enough in that respect, a good few of the other clubs have been hit hard by emigration. Fortunately for us, we’ve kept the same team as last year, maybe added one or two more which is a huge bonus for us.
“The way you’ve got to look at it, they could be gone next year, four or five, so this is our time to take a championship when we have the chance.”
It is a great honour to represent your county, there is definitely the talent down here. There are four or five young lads coming through, there are four or five of the lads already established with Leitrim, there are two or three of the younger lads that I’m sure will be coming through.