Sport

Enda McGinley: When I see my club winning, the victory feels personal. It feels like it belongs to me too

YOU’LL FIND ME IN THE CLUB: The scene at Slaughtneil GAC hall last year after the senior football team returned with the club’s second Ulster senior football title after beating Kilcoo. The pair renew a burgeoning rivalry in a mouthwatering Ulster Club SFC preliminary round clash this Sunday Picture: Margaret McLaughlin 

October is synonymous with club football and everything that it entails. Great stories of triumph over adversity, the end of long waits or impressive periods of dominance.  

Stories of brothers and families that, after the hullabaloo of the county season, remind us what it is all about. 

It is a special time and while some regret the loss of the prestigious month of September from the county game from next year,
I think it will only heighten what is a brilliant time of year for the club game.  

Another lesson the club game gives is witnessed in the joy and pride expressed when clubs win intermediate and junior honours.  

It is every bit as strong and precious as that experienced by the senior sides. Why this cannot be replicated at county level, the one level and code where no tiered competitions exists, appears increasingly bizarre.

So far this year in Ulster at senior grade, we have witnessed Cavan Gaels, Slaughtneil, Derrygonnelly and Kilcoo all experiencing that special high associated with a club title.  

This week sees further county finals taking place in Antrim, Tyrone, Donegal, Monaghan and Armagh.  We also see the commencement of the Ulster club series which, of course, is starting with a bang with a massive preliminary round tie between Kilcoo and Slaughtneil.  

These are undoubtedly the two current heavyweights of Ulster club football.  

The fact that they have dominated their own domestic competition for six and four years respectively means that both sets of panels are not caught up in celebrating county success, but rather coldly calculating an assault on provincial glory. So often the past experience or reputation of a team on a provincial stage takes them past many other newcomers to this level.  

Newcomers, by their nature, have often won a rare county title and anyone lucky enough to experience this will know that this requires a good deal of celebrating.  

Stopping this in time and approaching the Ulster club with the level of preparation it requires is hard and thus teams can be swatted aside by club aristocracy.  

That’s what makes the Kilcoo-Slaughtneil match so intriguing.  The two teams would be top of the betting for the Ulster Club SFC outright. Both are battle-hardened. Kilcoo have been so close in the past and, at some stage, surely they will get the stroke of luck required to get over the line.  

In contrast, double Ulster champions Slaughtneil’s run is bound to end at some stage and, in Kilcoo, they will face the team most capable of dethroning them.  Losing Ryan Johnston along with a number of others, including Aaron Branagan, however, means Kilcoo are weakened.  

Both teams boast strong panels, but quality still counts and especially so at this level.

In a tight game, I think the injuries scenario tips things in Slaughtneil’s favour as they attempt to win their third Ulster title in four years. 

The other big match for me – and forgive all obvious bias – is Errigal Ciaran v St Enda’s, Omagh in the Tyrone county final.  

The record of seven different Tyrone champions over seven years will come to an end as one of Errigal (2012) and Omagh (2014) is going to back up their most recent title with a second.  

This will be my first county final as a supporter rather than a player since I attended in 1997
as a 16-year-old.  

Twenty years and a lifetime in football terms may have passed, yet the nervous tension, excitement and pride that I will feel going to the match will be as strong as ever.  –

That is the brilliant thing about club football. Going to see Tyrone play now, I want to see them win, I want to see the lads do well, but for me their success is theirs.  

If Tyrone won the All-Ireland I would never consider it as my win. Maybe it’ll be different when/if the day comes and Tyrone get another All-Ireland title. Then I will experience it from the supporters’ perspective, but my gut feeling is it won’t feel as personal as a club title.

The club feels very different. Be it the U16 team or the senior team, when I see my club winning, the victory feels personal. It feels like it belongs to me too.  Right throughout the club, the experience is shared. 

From the committee members to the people who make the tea, from the groundsman to the older people in the club who may not be directly involved, they will all take as much from the match as the players. It is a familial level of pride and a sense of belonging that few things can replicate. 

Throughout Ulster over these weekends whole communities travel to games in a collective spirit that rides waves of nervous energy. For the players who are lucky enough to take the fields, the potential they have to create pride and joy among their own is unparalleled.  

That bit will be different now that my boots are hung up and out of harm’s way.  From the games I have experienced to date, the tension you feel as a player is nothing compared to what the supporters go through.   

Stomachs will be in knots all over Ulster this weekend, but anyone involved wouldn’t have it any other way.

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