By Michael McMullan
CELEBRATING another visit of the Dr Maguire Cup was important to Martin Regan and Naomh Conaill but the focus is set on Sunday and date with Gowna.
Mingling in each other’s pockets and the fans who back them all year was swapped for the training field by the Thursday night and it’s all about their trip to Kingspan Breffni.
Sunday will be a 107th consecutive senior championship appearance for goalkeeper Stephen McGrath and Regan applauds the longevity of their ‘100 club’.
With the help of selector John Gerard Gallagher’s love of numbers, Regan took a look over their long-serving players.
Last year, it was Marty Boyle who made his 100th appearance. McGrath, Anthony Thompson and Leo McLoone joined the club this year.
“It is a big achievement and I know their careers are going on 15 or 16 years but that is still six games a year,” Regan said.
“Stephen has played in all the games without being taken off in any of the games. It is a remarkable achievement, to have played all those games without missing any or any minutes of any game.
“It is something we talk about it and it’s something for the younger lads to aspire to, to see can they reach the same target.”
Numbers are nice, but Sunday is about one thing – coming home from Cavan with their name still in the hat.
It was a long spin back from Belfast following last year’s Ulster exit to Cargin after penalties. It was a tough one to swallow with the knowledge they had the game won twice.
“That is normally our bread and butter when we are those situations,” Regan said of falling to Cargin’s late rolls of the dice.
“That we can see games out and to concede a goal in that fashion was very disappointing.
“To go four points up in extra-time and concede a bad goal to let them back into it. Even their equaliser was something we could’ve blocked or got something on.”
While it was gut-wrenching, it is usually Naomh Conaill who find themselves on the other side, the team who don’t blink going down the home stretch.
“It is hard work; it is genuinely hard work and boys with the hunger to win games,” Regan offers in response to how the Glenties men make themselves nearly impossible to beat.
“They’ll throw themselves at anything. If there is a block to be made, there is any one of them lining up to make that block to help each other.
“It is experience too,” he adds. “They have been in a lot of tough games down the years and in a lot of tough battles.
“That experience counts for a lot when you are going down the home straight in tight games where you can see it out when you have that confidence in your own ability and your teammates.”
Sunday brings the next challenge, a Gowna team who will carry the pain of a first round exit from last year.
The prize for the winners, a clash against the winners of champions Glen and Cargin in the semi-finals.