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Aughnamullen ready to test themselves after long wait

BY KIERAN LYNCH

AUGHNAMULLEN’S rise over the last two years has been incredible, as under Gabriel Bannigan, they have progressed from playing junior football in 2020 to senior football in 2022.

Indeed, their opening league fixture against Truagh last month, was the club’s first game at senior level in 26 years.

“The last time that the club was in senior, I was actually playing,” said Bannigan, speaking to Gaelic Life about the club’s rapid rise.

“But it has been an interesting couple of years. They were relegated to junior in 2019, and a few of my friends who had played on that last Aughnamullen team that played senior, were always onto me about coming back and managing this group of lads at some stage.

“I had been involved in coaching and managing teams in Dublin primarily, over the last 15 years, but just over two years ago, after meeting with the committee I thought, ‘if I’m ever going to do it, I’m going to do it now.’

“When I met the lads in 2019, I said to them ‘I’m not here to win a Junior Championship, I’m here to take you back to senior.”

Any time a club gains back-to-back promotions it’s a remarkable achievement, but Bannigan always felt the club were a sleeping giant, capable of playing at a much higher level.

“The first year was obviously affected by Covid, but in fairness to the lads, when we came back out of lockdown the preseason work we had done, stood to us,” he said.

“It was a short season, but a very successful one. We had six championship games and won them all. We put huge scores up in those games and got back up into Intermediate at the first time of asking.

“Last season, we got promoted for the second time in a row, but unfortunately, we didn’t have a championship trophy to go with it, because Donaghmoyne beat us in the final.

“We achieved our goal, but in some people’s eyes, we achieved it a year too soon.

“If you look at our first two league results, we’re after shipping two heavy defeats against Truagh and Carrickmacross.”

The defeats Aughnamullen have taken (losing by 13 and 16 points respectively) shows the size of the task ahead, but Bannigan believes that testing themselves against the best teams will be what’s best for his side in the long run.

“Some people will say that Aughnamullen could have done with another year or two at intermediate, and that is one way of looking at it,” said the manager.

“But in my opinion – without any shadow of a doubt – you want to be playing senior football. At any level or age group, you’re better to be competing at the highest level possible. Firstly, for player development and improvement.

“Secondly, the senior team in any club is your flagship team and your role models for the younger kids. None of the young lads in Aughnamullen have seen their senior players playing senior football in the last 26 years, so they haven’t seen their heroes coming up against the top teams.”

Of course, the mindset now changes, as they will be expected to lose more often than they have done over the last two years, but Bannigan says it’s not about ‘surviving’ senior, it’s about improving as they go.

“In terms of our goals this year, I wouldn’t say survival – I would say progress,” he affirmed.

“It’s about trying to come up that curve and trying to improve the group of players and bring them on another level and becoming competitive at senior level.”

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