By Barry O’Donnell
STEWARTSTOWN captain Mark Rooney admits that it will be a ‘massive honour’ to lead the Harps out onto the pitch at Croke Park this Sunday lunchtime, though stressing that they are lucky to have a team full of leaders.
The 26-year old structural engineer will write his name large into club folklore if things go to plan and he is climbing the steps onto the podium under the shadows of the Hogan Cup to lift the All-Ireland Junior trophy mid-afternoon.
It would mark a glorious climax to a superb Championship campaign for Stewartstown, with Rooney among those playing a pivotal role in that successful run. Patrolling around the middle of his own ’40’ the centre half back has shone thoughout, blending a defensive tenacity with a willingness to launch atacking raids in the other direction.
Mark though modestly plays down his own contribution as skipper of the side.
“ It’s a massive honour to captain the team and to lead them out at Croke Park will be something else. In saying that we have plenty of leaders acros the field so I’m just the man who goes up to the middle for the toss before the start.”
Rooney was at primary school the last time that the Harps reached the All-Ireland Final back in 2005 and he hopes that this season’s memorable run to Croker will inspire a future generation to don the club colours.
“ I have some vague memories of that year. There is a few videos of it and stories doing the rounds about that run still to this day. Thankfully the current crop are adding a new chapter now, and it will inspire others coming after us to take up football too. It’s important that a small club like our own has young ones continuing to come through the ranks to compete.”
Different players have stepped up to the plate at different stages to keep the Harps afloat in this year’s Championship, with keeper Greg Kelly again underlining his importance with an extra-time penalty save against Clifden in last Saturday’s All-Ireland semi-final. Rooney was full of praise for his goalie who not for the first time rose to the occasion.
“ Fair play to Greg. If that went in we were a point down with only five or so minutes to go so. Even on the rebound a couple of boys bottled their player up so everyone was alert. That summed up our hunger. He saved us against Drumlane (shoot-out) as well so he must like the penalties.”
Looking back on the Clifden performance Rooney believed that the Harps greater stamina and stubborn refusal to wilt helped them get across the winning line.
“ We probably didn’t kick on enough in the first half. We had the wind at our backs and should have been making it count but we played poorly enough. In the second half we picked it up and knew we were doing well but we spurned a couple of good chances.
“Once it got to extra-time we knew we had it in us to push on and thankfully we got over the line.
“ Looking at Clifden’s record coming into the game I don’t think they were ever really tested but that’s the third time now be have been to extra-time. So we have it in the legs. This team doesn’t lie down. We were always going to fight for each other.”
And those same traits will be required when Stewartstown come up against Kerry and Munster champions Fossa this weekend, and certain siblings who have lit up Croke Park once or twice in the recent past.
“ If you have a chance to go against the Cliffords at Croke Park it is going to take a bad injury to keep you out so hopefully we will get everybody rested up and ready to go on Sunday.
“ It’s an absolute honours to face those boys. When you get to Croke Park you want to beat the best though I’m sure Fossa will have other good players as well we will have to keep an eye on. We can’t just focus on two players.
“ At the start of the year the aim was to win the Tyrone Championship . Ulster was a bit of a bonus after that but now we ae here we want to go all the way. So we aren’t just going for a day out at Croke Park that’s for sure.”