By Shaun Casey
FROM the outside, it always seemed like it was just a matter of when Glen would be crowned Ulster champions rather than if, even when they came up against the reigning All-Ireland champions.
Their trail of Ulster minor winning teams, the return of towering midfielder Conor Glass from Australia and the appointment of former Monaghan boss Malachy O’Rourke as manager all pointed to a team that would eventually reach the summit of provincial football.
This weekend, the Maghera men take their journey one step further as they enter the All-Ireland club series for the first time in their history. They face Galway champions Maigh Cuilinn, backboned by Galway captain and full back Seán Kelly, in Croke Park this Sunday.
That outside expectation doesn’t feed into the squad or have any influence on the team, suggests centre half back Michael Warnock, and the Glen boys are always just focusing on the next game.
“If you want to be a top team, you can’t really let it (outside pressure in),” said Warnock, who turns 30 this week. “For us, the challenge we have, it’s just the game ahead of you and it’s quite clichéd but there’s a reason people reference that. It’s because they know if they look further down the line, you’re sitting at home watching other teams battle it out.
“It’s the quality of opposition you’re coming up against, even in our own club championship in Derry never mind in Ulster or the All-Ireland series, thankfully we haven’t allowed it to get into the group. I think that’s down to a few of the strong characters we have at the minute and thankfully we’ve been able to get over the line this year.
“As players, you place such an expectation on yourself and when we won Derry, we actually felt that the shackles were off. You don’t feel the same actual pressure when you’re playing in Ulster or the same nerves.
“We don’t know what to put it down to, it’s maybe the fact that we’ve got out of Derry and there was such an expectation on yourself that you needed to win a championship as a player for Glen,” continued Warnock
“In that sense, that eliminates some of the nerves. Winning Ulster is massive for us, two years ago we were talking about trying to win a Derry championship for the first time and now we’ve won an Ulster for the first time.
“It’s happened quite quickly but the expectations that people have from outside of Glen is probably less of an expectation than we have as a group of players to be honest.”
Seeing off Kilcoo in devastating style will boost the belief within the Glen changing room, that they could go all the way, but Warnock and his teammates know that confidence alone won’t be enough to land the Andy Merrigan Cup.
“Belief wise, you’ve beaten the All-Ireland champions, it’s a big factor in the sense of getting out of Ulster,” explained the Watty Grahams defender.
“Kilcoo went to extra time in the All-Ireland semi-final last year, went to extra time against Kilmacud Crokes and got the winner at the very end, that just shows you how tight it is.
“If we believe we’re going to win an All-Ireland now just because we beat Kilcoo, that’s just not going to happen. We’ve got to be able to bring a performance this Sunday and if we do that, as a player, I have full confidence in ourselves as a group.
“I’m sure Maigh Cuilinn will say the same, if they bring a performance, they will feel they’ll get over the line. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
It seems that wherever Malachy O’Rourke decides to hang his hat, success follows. He guided Monaghan to two Ulster titles and has managed numerous clubs to various county titles. But what is it that makes him so special?
“A calmness and a lot of experience in that sense. I think the one thing people don’t speak about with him is just how nice of a person he is. People think that he can’t be as calm in the changing room as he is along the line and he’s probably actually calmer again.
“I think that feeds into us as players. It’s very difficult to put your finger on it, even when you’re playing under him, but as a group of players we just love playing for him and Ryan (Porter) and playing for Glen. As long as we have that I think we have every chance of being successful.”