By Michael McMullan
IT was a different day at the Athletic Grounds for Ryan Dougan on Sunday. Different in every way.
Just over twelve months ago, he could only look on as Jerome Johnston blasted home Kilcoo’s winning goal. After Connlan Bradley’s overcooked kick-out had him slipping in Paul Devlin’s wake, Dougan was powerless to prevent Glen’s title hopes slipping way.
On Sunday, Dougan was everywhere. He got forward in the first half to fist over his first point of the season and when Danny Tallon stroked Glen into an unassailable 0-12 to 1-6 lead, late on, he wasn’t stopping there.
When Glen’s kick-out squeeze forced Kilcoo’s Niall Kane to lump his restart into the midfield minefield, Dougan punched the ball forward with the venom 12 months of pain can bring.
Add in man of the match Conleth McGuckian’s dink over the top and Alex Doherty was in to sell Kane a dummy and score his fifth goal of the season. On Doherty’s right shoulder was Dougan – a machine. It was the 63rd minute, but his engine was still revving and the emotion in his fist pump of celebration spoke a thousand words.
This was Glen’s time. The hurt was gone. And it was close to the same spot he sat and cried on 10 years ago. St Patrick’s Maghera had just lost a MacRory Cup final they were odds to win and his mother Karen consoled him in that moment of despair after Joe McQuillan’s final whistle. This visit to the Athletic Grounds, with the same Cavan whistler in the middle, was totally different.
“Funny enough, that’s what (Connor) Carville was chatting about on the bus…an omen,” Dougan said on Sunday. Basking as an Ulster champion, with barely a bead of sweat on his brow after covering every sector of the Athletic Grounds
“He said how we were beat in a MacRory final and we won it the next year. We were beat in the Ulster (semi-final) last year and he was saying we were going to go on and win it this year, I’m so glad to get over the line.”
It helps when the man saying it is Connor Carville. Any time he led a team out as captain, he has supplied that winning formula.
When Glen were playing their way to a second league title this season under Malachy O’Rourke, Dougan was living it up on his travels around the world. His Instagram feed had more footage of CrossFit classes and fitness challenges than the party lifestyle of the average holiday maker.
When Martin Donaghy took him for 1-2 (including an advanced mark) in their opening championship group game against Claudy, the cobwebs were only getting blown out in a routine win.
“It’s unreal…it’s unreal playing on this team,” Dougan said of getting back into the group he grew up with. “I was happy enough to get back into the team because there were boys going rightly. I just pushed as hard as I could to see if I could get my match fitness, it is different than sitting in a gym.”
By the time their quarter-final with Magherafelt came along, Dougan and Jack Doherty – who also spent the summer on his travels – were ripping it up. Any black smoke was long gone out of the system. Their bleached blonde hair dos shining under the Owenbeg lights.
On another day, if Conleth McGuckian wasn’t touching on a 9.5/10 performance, Dougan could have picked up Sunday’s man of the match. That’s how much Glen’s 0-5 to 0-0 start stoked the fire of Sunday’s showdown. The club’s biggest hour was now on their terms and all their lights were shining.
“It’s more of a relief than anything,” Dougan said of the day their minor and u-21 Ulster winning reputation hit the next level.
“It was touch and go when we were trying to build out of our defence. We were getting turned over and couldn’t get a score and get the two or three-point gap we were looking.
“It is about trying not to mistakes because, as we learnt last year, it’s the team that makes the most mistakes usually gets beat. We were happy that we kept it minimal, apart from my penalty that I gave away but I was redeemed, so I was happy enough.”
Going into the game, did Glen feel they needed a lead from the off to keep themselves in front against a Kilcoo team that thrive from the control of having their noses in front?
“We were confident enough that if we were down by two or three, we could still find a way back,” came Dougan’s take on it.
“We did that against Magherafelt and against Errigal Ciaran as well. We are not bothered about being down two or three points. We keep the head down and keep pegging away and hopefully in it in the last five or ten.”
At half-time, they felt “hard done by” at only being a point ahead (0-7 to 1-3) and the message was to continue to ask Kilcoo the hard questions.
“We decided to go out and do the same, to create the same pressure, and see how they would deal with it,” Dougan said.When Conleth McGuckian won possession, on a loose ball, seconds after the throw-in, Glen kept the ball for three minutes before Dougan was fouled as he shot and Danny Tallon had his side two ahead. A small moment, yet massive and offered another cushion.
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Of all the big moments in the second half, Danny Tallon’s fifth free allowed Dougan a rare moment of relief from the helter skelter action. But he wasn’t finished there.
“We didn’t sit off their kick-out, we decided to push it and lucky enough we got another goal from it and that was it put to bed,” he said of Alex Doherty sealing goal applying the ice on the cake, with Dougan having the modesty of omitting his central part in making it all happen.
An All-Ireland challenge for Glen?
“We’ll maybe take a week off and see how it lasts in Regan’s (their celebrations in a local Maghera hostelry) and start back next week…I’d say we’ll be back training by the end of next week.”
If Ryan Dougan’s travels are anything to go by, he’ll be pumping iron by the end of the week.