Semi-finals are notoriously difficult games to navigate but for Glencar/Manor’s Fergal O’Flaherty and Melvin Gaels Billy Gavigan, success last Saturday in Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada ensured that they can plan for the biggest day in the Leitrim club calendar and a derby game to boot.
Billy and Fergal had the air of relieved men and for very different reasons – Fergal for seeing the champions escape with a victory and Billy for seeing his side do exactly what was expected of them.
For St. Mary’s Martin Barnes and Aughawillan’s Mickey Quinn, the regrets probably started the second the final whistle sounded to end their dreams of glory.
Martin’s disappointment was obvious – “I think our first half performance let us down a good bit but fair play to the lads, they stuck at it in the second half. We could have pulled it out in the end, missing the penalty and all that sort of thing, but it wasn’t our day.
“Manorhamilton are cute, they are clever, they can score. Like that score at the end shows you how good they are, to come up and do that. We had two or three chances to do it but they did it in one and that is the difference.”
Niall Comerton’s penalty miss was costly but Martin felt his team had enough of other chances to win it – “We were on a roll at that stage, the penalty miss took the sting out of us. Still, we got back level and maybe we could have sneaked at the end with a couple of frees but they weren’t easy frees.”
A relieved Glencar/Manor manager Fergal O’Flaherty was in agreement that the champions experience proved crucial – “We let it slip for five minutes when they got a few scores and then the penalty, they just found a lot of space and got in.
“Thankfully, they missed the penalty and we were able to respond and we showed character to hold out. They were coming in off a very good performance, you could see they were a team that had a good method and we really had to work hard.
“They got on top at midfield and their forwards started to get more space and we started to tire maybe a little bit, struggled to get our kick-outs and when it happens that quick, there is not an awful lot you can do about it, you have to ride it out. And we rode it out, we got back and got the scores to win it.”
Fergal pointed out that the champions had plenty of positives from the game – “We played very good stuff in the first half. After about ten minutes, we got going, we scored seven points in a row which I’d be very happy with.
“We kind of struggled a bit there at times in the second half, we had to work hard. At one point, we had five players chasing Ray Mulvey who kicked the ball wide, you couldn’t fault the effort.”
As for the final, Fergal was coy – “We weren’t even thinking about that, we’re relieved at the moment but we’re going to have to improve, we have a lot of work to do if we are to win the final.”
One man very definitely looking forward to the Final was Melvin Gaels Billy Gavigan who was relieved that the job was gone – “I’m very happy and proud of the boys, they’ve put a lot of work in this year.
“At the start of the year, that is what we were looking at, the County Final and we’re there in the County Final and it is great to see a local derby against Manorhamilton. We’re in the final and that is what counts.”
Neither does Billy believe his team are now favourites – “It will be a good final but we’d have our work cut out to beat them. I suppose people will have us as favourites but you can’t beat five-in-a-row, a team going for five-in-a-row, they have to be favourites.”
Billy was also quick to pay tribute to the strength in depth of his squad and Emlyn Mulligan in particular – “It is a great comfort to have Emlyn for taking frees and doing different things like that, it is a joy having him. He is a star, he could make any county team so he could.
“We have about 23 or 24 players and you can bring any one of them in and they can do a job, and it makes a difference. Last year, we were struggling with the panel but we’ve got a few boys back there and it is just going well for them. It is a team game and everyone has to do the work, you can’t depend on five or six of a team, the whole team has to do the work and that is why there are five subs to come in.”
Aughawillan’s Mickey Quinn could only admire what Melvin Gaels produced on the day - “They were brilliant, they were really up for it and what stood out for me was the physical power and strength Melvin Gaels had all around the field.
“We have a very young team, with a couple of Minors and a few players in their early twenties but we wouldn’t be able to compete with that sort of physical power. We did well to get to the semi-finals this year with a young team who have lost five players from when we won the Intermediate two years ago.
“To be honest, I’m not sure the score-board does us justice. We had a few goal chances after halftime and we struck the post but when a game gets away from you, it is very hard to get back into it with a young side.
“I think that sort of thing will come to our lads if they stick at it and work hard over the winter months. This has been our best run in the championship in seven years and hopefully, we will have a couple of the lads we are missing back next year.”