By Niall Gartland
JUST 14 months ago, Glen won their first ever senior championship in Derry. Now they’re on the precipice of All-Ireland glory, so it’s been one hell of a ride for the team and their supporters.
Maghera is festooned with green and gold bunting this week along with banners wishing their heroes luck in Sunday’s All-Ireland final showdown against Kilmacud Crokes.
Forward Danny Tallon says he’s trying to savour pre-match build-up – “but not too much” – and is conscious that these days don’t necessarily last forever. Kilmacud are favourites – but Glen aren’t exactly rank outsiders so they’ll be hoping of bringing back the Andy Merrigan to Derry for the first time since Ballinderry in 2002.
Tallon said: “Kilmacud lost the final last year so they’ll be carrying serious hurt but we want to put our best foot forward. We don’t know when or if we’ll be back, so this feels like a massive opportunity for us. We want to play to our potential and get over the line. If we do, great, and if not we’ll hold our hands up and learn from it.”
While success on the adult stage is still relatively new for Glen, it’s not as if they don’t have a proven track record of winning championships. They claimed a remarkable four in-a-row in the Ulster Minor Championship at St Paul’s for starters between 2011 and 2014, with Tallon one of three players involved in every campaign.
“That was obviously a great experience for everyone. It feels like a long time ago now and most of our current team is from that crop of players. We were waiting for a brave while to win a senior championship after that. It was some experience to play up there in St Paul’s and thankfully the whole team has basically stayed together at senior level.”
The Glen story could still be split into a before and after their long-awaited Derry Senior Championship triumph in the winter of 2021. Tallon says it had a liberating effect on the club as a whole.
“It was massive and we’re still pinching ourselves a wee bit. Growing up it’s something you always aspire to and now we’ve finally done it, it still feels a bit surreal.
“To be honest it’s still hard to put into words what winning in Derry was like. But winning it for the first time has definitely made us more ambitious and we wanted to set our sights on Ulster and beyond.”
Plenty of praise has been doled out to Glen’s management team spearheaded by Malachy O’Rourke and his familiar right-hand man Ryan Porter, whom he worked alongside during his seven years at Monaghan. Tallon likewise is highly complimentary of the duo.
“It’s hard to put into words just how good they’ve been with us. Malachy has brought so much experience and calmness and keeps our feet on the ground. The coaching has been phenomenal and I have to mention Ryan as well. Training has been great, I couldn’t fault it.”
Paying reference to their All-Ireland semi-final win over Maigh Cuilinn, Tallon acknowledged it wasn’t the perfect performance but alluded to the quality of their opposition.
“We expected nothing less to be honest. Galway champions are always strong and we were going to have to be at our best. We started strongly and maybe faded a bit. Then in the second half we started strongly and then towards the end we were hanging on again a bit but thankfully we did enough to get over the line.”
Tallon also appreciates the backing of their loyal supporters, although he’s mindful of not getting caught up in the hype. Three years ago, when Glen reached the senior championship final for the first time in their history, the place went bananas – though they ended up being nipped on the day by a formidable Magherafelt side. These days they’re a bit more measured.
“It’s not a bad thing to enjoy it, as long as we’re not enjoying it too much. We’ll leave that stuff to the fans. The support is phenomenal though and it’s great to see, we’ve really felt it at matches, they’re very vocal and it’s spurred us on.”