Down legend Treanor has come a long way with Castlewellan
Down Senior Football Championship final: Eoghan Rua Kilcoo v Castlewellan St Malachy’s (tomorrow, Pairc Esler, 4pm)
ELEVEN times John Treanor packed his boots for championship final day in Down with butterflies looping-the-loop in the pit of his stomach.
The supremely gifted frontman won county 10 titles (as well as five Ulsters and two All-Irelands) with all-conquering Burren between 1981 and 1997 and on Sunday ‘Shorty’ returns to the county finale again, this time as manager of Castlewellan.
In his playing days Treanor travelled on the favourites’ bus, but Castlewellan are rank underdogs on Sunday at a throw-your-money-down-the-drain price of 1/6 to beat defending champions Kilcoo.
It’s a stark contrast for the former Down star who is in his third season with the St Maolmhoig club that last reached the county showpiece back in 2001.
Only two survivors from the game – Fintan McGreevy and Damian McGrady – remain on the panel while Kilcoo will field a host of experienced inter-county stars and are chasing four in-a-row in the Mourne county. Treanor is well aware that his men have it all to do but he warns: “It’s a two-horse race, we’re there on merit and we’ll give it a lash.
“They’re hot favourites and, along with Crossmaglen, they’re probably favourites for Ulster. They’ve been there for the last four years and we haven’t been there for a long time.”
Success came easily to Treanor as a player in the GAA heartland of Burren, but he has seen how the other half live during his team with Castlewellan says it would be “a great honour” to take them to the title.
“There’s nothing like winning championships when you’re playing and the management part of it is a completely different ball-game altogether,” he said.
“This time is a young side and they’ve put a lot of effort in over the last three years.
“It’s not easy in a town team where soccer is heavily involved too and you have to try and work both ways. We never banned soccer or anything, we always left it up to the lads if they wanted to play and townies will always have lads who play soccer – they want to play it and they’re all useful soccer players too.
“They go on cup runs and you have to try and work with them all and they’re a hurling club as well but, in fairness the commitment has been 100 per cent from them.
“We had a few injuries early on in the year and the league didn’t go as well as we wanted it to go – we lost a few boys (Mickey Cunningham, Matthew Stratton, Colly Flanagan and Conal Crilly) to America.
“You can’t stop young fellas going but they promised me they’d be back home for the quarter-final of the championship if we got there. We were in a relegation battle up to last week whereas in the last two years we’ve been in the semi-final or final of the league.
“This year we had to say ‘right, we’re going to lose a few league games but we’ll prepare for the championship a bit differently this year’.
“We had the luck of the draw missing the top two or threes teams – we got teams around the middle of the table and we were fit to beat them.
“The first year I came in I took four or five off the minor panel as subs and gradually threw them in here and there in certain games I knew they would hold their own in.
“This year, with a couple of boys retiring and the boys going to America we had to throw them in at the deep end and they’ve come up trumps – they’re the boys that has got us where we are and full credit to them.”
He admits he is hoping that “they have an off day and we have a brilliant day” and says Kilcoo deserves their favourites’ tag.
“Paul (McIver) has come in and he has brought in a different type of game than Jim (McCorry) would have played and the players have responded to him brilliantly,” he said.
“They came through very tough games against Burren (twice) and Mayobridge this year. The experience is there and with players like the Brannigans, PD (Paul Devlin), Lavery and the Johnstons they have a very solid unit.”