Glen's fighting spirit honed in pre-season - Ciaran McFaul
AFTER the pre-season Glen went through, putting his head in the way to stop a shot was no bother to Ciaran McFaul.
The fighting spirit the Maghera lads showed to hold off strong favourites Slaughtneil and reach the club’s first ever Derry SFC Final was forged before a ball was kicked this year.
New manager Jude Donnelly took the Watty Graham’s lads to the Loughshore boxing club in Ardboe and they’re still standing as the Oak Leaf county championship enters its final round.
Enda Gormley had led his club to Ulster U21 successes but they hadn’t been able to step up on the senior stage – until now.
“Enda was a serious manager and the players have total respect for him,” said McFaul. “Enda took us to this level.
“Jude knew how good we were, he has believed in us from day dot, he had us doing different things, like boxing in pre-season, and that stood to us.
“It was a bit of craic, but it was serious too, down in Ardboe. We went into the season probably the fittest we’ve ever been.”
The sheer pace in the Glen team was too much for Slaughtneil to contain, but the Maghera men still needed to deny their opponents a second goal to secure the victory, by 3-7 to 1-11.
McFaul, who put in a magnificent all-round shift in his midfield role, laughed about his contribution to that defensive effort, saying: “There was one that just hit off my head, I just threw myself at it, I had to do something, it just hit off me.” He also got a foot to a low shot from Christopher ‘Sammy’ Bradley that had seemed certain to find the net.
Emmet Bradley, who had netted his team’s crucial third goal at the start of the second half, restoring a lead that Glen would never lose, also kept out a shot from Meehaul McGrath in the fourth minute of added time.
McFaul agreed that victory should have been assured before then given the overall quality of Glen’s display: “Aye, last 10 minutes we probably should have [made it safe], we had five or six chances to put the game to bed, but Slaughtneil are so good and they got that chance to come back at us – the luck was on our side.”
Beating their near neighbours cleared an important psychological hurdle, especially after a humiliating hammering by the Emmet’s in the Derry League decider, by 3-21 to 0-12:
“It’s a massive day for the club. We knew how good Slaughtneil was going into the game, they gave us a bit of a tanking in the league final – and they’ve been in two All-Ireland Finals. We just tried to stick to the process and with each game we just kept getting better.”
Even more importantly Glen are finally into a Derry senior football decider. An old man cried as he hugged McFaul afterwards, who appreciates the significance of what they’ve achieved – so far:
“It means everything for our club. That generation never experienced being in a county final. Luckily we’ve got that feeling.
“It’s a first county final in the history of the club. It’s a massive stepping stone to where we want to go – but, realistically, we haven’t won anything yet and we have a tough test ahead of us in the final with Magherafelt.”
Indeed both clubs have reasons to believe they can be crowned champions on October 20, as McFaul recalled: “They’re similar to us, they’re an up-and-coming team. In the U14s they beat us, the Feile final, and then we got revenge on them in the Minor final, Emmet Bradley’s year. We know how good their players are, fellas like Danny and Shane Heavron can kick scores, on their day can cause damage.”
Although he’s only 25, McFaul is one of the elder statesman on this Glen team, joking after the exertions of seeing off Slaughtneil: “I feel a lot older.
“I was shocked the other night at training, ‘Spike’, Michael Warnock, said to me that he was the oldest on the team at 26. Magherafelt’s the same, they’ve a lot of youth as well.”
Magherafelt have some more experienced players, but Glen will still be favourites. That’s largely due to defeating Slaughtneil, but also because of their recent history of winning three Ulster U21 club titles in a row, from 2015 to 2017 inclusive.
Those triumphs led to serious expectations of this group of players, McFaul acknowledged: “There was a bit of pressure now. The players didn’t get carried away – we knew we had the players in the group and probably this year is the best group of players we’ve ever had. There’s 40 to 50 men at training, knocking themselves in every night.
“I’m just glad for the boys who have come back that we’re in a county final. There were boys who just couldn’t commit over the years but we’ve got everybody back now. It’s hard for Jude but it’s a great vibe, a great buzz”.
There may have been some sore heads around Maghera on Monday morning, but they’ll get them right for the final, and hope to have their hands raised as champs on October 20.