Taking it in their stride

By Michael McMullan

SUNDAY will be Glen’s eleventh championship foray into championship action outside the confines of the Derry cocoon they took their time stepping out of.

The Scotstown team that run out of the same tunnel will wear a jersey that has been steeped on big days.

When they were winning championships in Monaghan for fun and collecting four Ulster titles, Glen were nowhere.

They had a group in the eighties that should’ve delivered. But they didn’t and when their underage teams bottomed out in Grade C over a decade ago, it was time to circle the wagons. A meeting was called. Teeth were gnashed and early steps of building their current senior team were taken.

Now, if you walk down the corridor in Glen club, you’ll see the same faces on the walls, all sat behind u-12, u-14, Féile, u-16 and minor silverware. That’s before you go to the four Christmases in Belfast when turkey was on hold as they dominated the Ulster minor scene. It was the same at u-21 level in Creggan.

The 2013 St Patrick’s, Maghera Hogan Cup winning team, captained by Connor Carville, had 10 Glen players in the 19 used on a day when their kicking game pulled Navan to corners of Croke Park they couldn’t get to.

When Derry minors began their recent run of success, Damian McErlain made Conor Glass the captain. Jack Doherty was pulling the strings. Tiarnan Flanagan scored the goal to sink Cavan in the final, a team that had Ballyhaise battering ram David Brady at the other end.

Ethan Doherty is the current Young Player of the Year. Conor Glass has picked up an All-Star. Ciaran McFaul has 89 Derry senior appearances under his belt. Emmett Bradley has 66.

When you take that closer look, there is more experience of the championship arena than Glen’s age profile gives them credit for.

Another ingredient is humility. It doesn’t kick the ball over the bar, but it helps foster an environment Malachy O’Rourke would never have needed to unfurl a players’ charter into.

“I tried it, but the boys burned it. They ripped it up and burned it,” he joked to the assembled press at Monday night’s Ulster final launch in Garvaghey. His hearty laugh said it all. Glen were craving someone to steer their ship.

Having watched Ballinderry and Sleacht Néill literally own the John McLaughlin Cup when the current Glen team were turning into their adult careers only sharpened the pencil of desire for success.

On the way, they had to learn how to lose and, since that, they’ve learned how to win. Both with dignity.

The nature of the defeat to Kilmacud Crokes would’ve been the fuel for the odd drunken tweet as they licked their wounds. They didn’t arrive. Park it and move on.

After their glories, they paid tribute to the teams they defeated along the way and, once again, moved on.

The Loup players Malachy O’Rourke moulded into Ulster champions 20 years ago this week, they weren’t allowed to walk off the bus with bottles of beer at their homecomings. They needed to be fresh to mingle with the fans who drove around Ulster supporting them.

“You’d like to think there’s good values in the club,” was O’Rourke’s reply when asked where Glen humility comes from.

“I suppose the boys appreciate that they’ve had tough times as well. There’s many a time when they were on the wrong end of defeats.”

Prepare. Go out. Play hard. You’ll win or you’ll lose. That’s a brief summary of the formula. A glance at the Glen boss along the sideline and there is calmness in his face.

As he often said to the Loup players “keep ‘er amber” before flicking the switch to green when the energy levels were fully needed. When Sleacht Néill turned up the heat in this year’s feisty Derry semi-final, O’Rourke edged further from the Glen technical area. Marginally animated yet calm.

“I think it is important for the whole club that there is that attitude that you try and do things as best you can and in the right way,” he said of the Glen players’ ability to keep on trucking into a storm.

“It doesn’t always work out. Emotions run high on occasions. The players, the management – you aren’t always going to get things right. You try and represent the club in the right way and that’s important as well.

“I suppose the thing about it is you probably make better decisions if you’re thinking isn’t all over the place and you’re keeping yourself half settled…I suppose that’s part of it,” he said of the championship white heat.

Scotstown will throw all they have on Sunday. So will Glen. It’s the biggest day in the Ulster football for club players. Both teams have something to prove. Seamus McFerran will be cheered into the dressing room of the team that gets more right than wrong.

When Glen picked through the embers of failing youth structures, they could only dream of days like Sunday. The fans will hope the players from the renaissance can paint another memorable championship masterpiece. The players, they’ll take it as it comes.

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