Fenagh St. Caillin's captain Ryan O'Rourke is looking forward to the final. Photo by Willie Donnellan
Nobody likes being favourites. Well, they do and they don't - clubs like the status of the favourites but don't appreciate the pressure. And it is something Fenagh captain Ryan O'Rourke readily understands.
And the Fenagh captain understands that Annaduff will love the underdogs tag for next Sunday’s Smith Monumentals Intermediate Championship Final - “We’re down as favourites but we’re expecting a very tough challenge. We’re hoping for a win but we’re expecting as tough a game as we’ve got all year.
“Annaduff will love being underdogs, they’re in exactly the position they want to be in. They want the limelight on us but they’ll be coming in confident too. They’ll have seen us and they’ll be looking at ways they can beat us.
“They’re in a good position but that is all mental stuff - if we just focus on ourselves, focus on our team, that’s all external factors we try not to think of. We’re quietly confident but we’re just focusing on ourselves.”
It is a matter of fact statement of the situation ahead of next Sunday’s Final but for a young player, Ryan has an old head on his shoulders and he is very much aware of the outside perception of the talent coming through the Fenagh ranks.
“We were decent enough underage coming up and you are probably seeing the fruits of that now. We’ve a young team but they’ve all pretty much done well at U14, 16, Minor and U21 so we’re just kind of seeing the start of that now.
“We were probably nearly favourites last year but were probably a bit inexperienced, a bit light. This year, we had a couple of more additions with new lads coming in and there is a nice blend of the youth and the older lads, it worked well this year and thankfully we did make it to the final.”
And he admits that the influx of so much talent is exciting even for him as a player who, even at his young age, is now a wily veteran - “It is exciting, it is good for the future especially with some fellas there now like Mark Keegan and Conor Dwyer, it is their first year and they’re looking forward to a County Final.
“Donal Wrynn is 24, 25, I’m 20 and this is my fifth year with the Senior team. It is a young team but we seem to be playing a long time, it feels like. We’ve had a couple of tough years but thankfully, we’re in the final.”
That new experience was seen in the victory over Leitrim Gaels in the semi-finals - “It was a tough game and there probably was a lot built up about that game as well. The group game is not where it is won or lost and we were mainly focussed on the semi-final. Thankfully, we won, it was a very tough game and we got over the line.
“We were down by a couple of points at halftime and in years before we wouldn’t have brought that back. But the work we’ve done with Declan, it showed in the second half that we can bring it back and we had to dig it out.”
Sunday’s Final is even more unusual for Ryan and his cousin Riordan as they could face another cousin Keith Duignan in direct battle - “It will be unusual. Keith Duignan is usually playing full-back, it is going to be interesting coming up against him. We haven’t really played them too often so we wouldn’t have seen each other too regularly. It will be interesting, it will be good craic playing against Keith.”
And Ryan is definitely not taking Annaduff for granted - “They’re down as underdogs but we’re not reading anything into that. Semi-Finals are there to be won, no matter if one teams wins by two points or one team wins well, we’re not reading anything into it.
“Annaduff are definitely a good team, they’ve topped the Division 2 League and they’re only after coming down from Senior and are looking to get straight back up again.”
The final comes at the end of a long year for Ryan and his fellow County player Donal Wrynn but Ryan believes it is all about managing your playing schedule despite the challenges - “It is just about staying injury free at this stage, you’re fit enough from all through the year so it is trying to stay fresh for the games.
“It is hard, especially with the club championship, it is a long enough round of games, I don’t know if they are going to restructure or anything. For a County player, it is a long year, especially with Sigerson as well, the National League, the Championship, it is tough enough to try and find a peak performance later in the year.”