Podcast: St Mary's eye up another giant-killing feat on D-Day with old foes DCU
Electric Ireland Sigerson Cup semi-final: University College Dublin v St Mary’s University College (today, 3pm, Mallow - deferred coverage on electricireland.ie/hec or Electric Ireland’s YouTube channel from 5pm)
WHERE once Gavin McGilly might have scrolled down in horror, almost squinting at the screen before his eyes, he now smiles, shakes his head and moves on.
The day when the Sigerson Cup declarations drop into the inbox from Croke Park can be a daunting one alright, especially if you are charged with dragging every last drop from a college boasting barely 150 males – plenty of whom have no interest in Gaelic football.
But when you’ve shown that you can reach the summit of Higher Education’s greatest peak regardless, any lingering fears or concerns about whoever else is playing for whoever else soon goes out the window.
It is impossible to quantify the impact the 2017 Sigerson Cup success over a star-studded UCD side has had on the Ranch, and two years on they’re back among the big boys.
St Mary’s have a completely new team, a turnaround of 30-odd players according to McGilly, with only Marc Reid, Colm Byrne, Niall Toner, this year’s captain Stephen McConville and the injured Oisin O’Neill remaining.
Several of those who take the field against UCD’s latest clutch of Galacticos in this afternoon’s semi-final were Freshers back in 2017, standing on the sidelines in Ballyhaunis, watching on as David slayed Goliath.
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If that can’t inspire you once you reach a stage such as this, nothing will.
“I suppose you’d hope it gave them a taste for it and showed what can be done,” said McGilly, who helped Moy to the All-Ireland intermediate title this time last year.
“Most definitely, the odds would be stacked against us to repeat that, and our opponents are probably smarting from a few years back. The surprise element will be gone, that’s for sure.
“It’ll take a massive performance from the entire group but there’s nothing to fear here – it’s a game of football.
“This is the biggest battle we’ve come across without a doubt, it’s a huge, huge test for us because of the quality of the opposition this time around, and the boys will know it’ll require their absolute best just even to compete against this team.”
McGilly was part of Paddy Tally’s backroom team that famous February weekend, and has joined the Galbally man in Down as he bids to bring back the glory days to the Mourne County.
With the National Football League parked for now, though, the focus is fully on St Mary’s and securing their spot in Wednesday’s decider.
Like the Ranch, UCD have only a handful of men remaining from two years ago though, in Mayo’s Stephen Coen, Monaghan’s Barry McGinn and Dublin’s Con O’Callaghan, they’re not bad.
Add into the mix the likes of McGinn’s fellow Farneyman Conor McCarthy, Antrim’s Peter Healy, Tyrone’s Conor Meyler and Laois forward Evan O’Carroll and – even deprived of Corofin’s Liam Silke - it’s not hard to see why they will start as 1/6 favourites down in Cork this afternoon.
Across three games they have scored 10 goals, and have been double digit winners in all – a mighty impressive feat when considering the strength of the DCU side disposed of last time out.
St Mary’s, on the other hand, have had to fight tooth and nail to make it to Mallow. It took extra-time and eventually a free-taking competition to get past NUI Galway before a 10-point haul from Shane McGuigan helped them past IT Tralee and into the quarter-finals.
There, after being level six times, the Ranch pulled away from Maynooth in the dying minutes. Each time they would have been underdogs, even money at very best, yet each time they came up trumps.
The spirit among this group, just like in 2017, never ceases to amaze those behind the scenes - the secret to their success then the same as it is now.
“At the start of the season you didn’t really know where you were at, and when the Sigerson declarations are sent through from Croke Park, you’re looking at other colleges and they’re laced, absolutely laced with senior and seasoned inter-county players,” said McGilly.
“Probably the big advantage we have is that, from the lads come through here in first year, they live together, they socialise together. We put a lot of emphasis on the collective spirit we try to build here, that’s a must for us in order to be able to compete at this level.
“You’d be off the wall not to acknowledge the talent that our opponents have, right through. They’ve established inter-county stars in every position but that’s how they approach things and that’s just the nature of their university – they’re maybe in a position to do that where they’re able to offer scholarships to attract that kind of player.
“For us, we appreciate the fellas that have come here to get an education to go on to be teachers, and part of that experience is getting to play Sigerson Cup football.
“We have total belief in each other and we back each to the absolute hilt. That’s a good starting point when you’re trying to build a team; it’ll take you a fair distance in a lot of games.”
It has taken them this far already and, if recent experience has taught these budding young teachers anything, it is that nothing should be considered beyond them.
TYRONE'S MEYLER TO COME UP AGAINST FAMILIAR FOES IN SIGERSON SEMI
A STRANGE afternoon is in store for Tyrone star Conor Meyler as his UCD side come up against the university he drove to Sigerson Cup success two years ago.
The St Enda’s, Omagh player was captain when St Mary’s stunned UCD in that final, but is now part of the Dublin university side targeting revenge against the Ranch.
St Mary’s boss Gavin McGilly knows Meyler well, and was quick to praise the role he played in that glorious 2017 run.
“He was a superb captain for St Mary’s in 2017, he played a real captain’s role in that Sigerson success and it’s something Conor will always hold dear,” said the Annaghmore man.
“It’ll be strange for him I’m sure because he’s very much a dyed-in-the-wool Rancher, but that’s just the situation he finds himself in now.
“Conor’s the sort of lad who’ll always remember his time at St Mary’s with great fondness, and that was all capped with winning the Sigerson and being the captain of that team.
“But I’m sure he’ll be doing his best to get UCD into another final. That’s just the way it is for him.”