Derrygonnelly Harps ready for Cargin test in Ulster
Going into a fifth Ulster Club Championship campaign on the trot, Stephen McGullion has a feeling that Derrygonnelly are moving closer to the standard demanded for success at provincial level.
A couple of years ago, they came close to reaching a final, losing a semi-final replay to Cavan Gaels. On other occasions they have suffered at the hands of ruthless opponents, but the 24-year-old midfielder insists the Fermanagh champions are heading in the right direction.
Sunday's preliminary round clash with Antrim title-holders Cargin will provide them with a measurement of their progress as Corrigan Park, scene of remarkable drama in recent weeks, hosts another big contest.
"Over the last five years, we feel we have been getting better every year. The first few years we were up against strong opposition in Slaughtneil," said McGullion.
"The third year, we got through to the semi-final and were very close to getting to the final, and probably deserved to go through on that day.
"So we feel we are definitely making progress each year, boys are getting better, improving each year and keen to make a real impact on Ulster if we can."
Cargin's epic battle with Lamh Dhearg in the Antrim SFC final, which included a replay and extra-time, has left them with just a week to recover and get themselves ready for this provincial challenge.
But McGullion reckons they're perfectly placed, with all the momentum and competitive preparation a team could wish for going into a big championship game.
"There's no better way to prepare for a championship than getting good hard games under your belt.
"We have come through the league semi-final and final, so we have had games as well, maybe just not to the same championship intensity that Cargin have had.
"They were two real hum-dinger games that they came through , and they showed great character to come through that."
Derrygonnelly's unprecedented fifth successive county triumph confirmed their standing as Fermanagh's premier force.
Most of their players, including McGullion and his 21-year-old brother Shane, have five championship medals, and while this season's challenge is built upon vast experience, they have added a few exciting young talents to the mix.
"Obviously we have good experience in there, we have a lot of county boys, we know what we should be doing, how we should be training, we're trying to push every man on in training each night.
"We have young boys coming in there, and no man knows that their position is safe in the team. we try and drive ourselves on to get up to that intensity, and we feel like we can.
"We have the three Joneses and myself, and my younger brother Shane, who was in the county set-up this year. he has made great progress.
"Gavin McGovern, who has been playing very well, Jack Love has come in this year at corner back and really made the position his own.
"So we have a great mix of youth and experience, with Kevin Cassidy, who is 43 and still playing championship football.
"We have boys who can drive the thing on and boys who can calm it down whenever we need to."
Despite their continued and growing success, the Harps are a humble bunch and remain grounded.
McGullion insists there's no danger of them developing any level of arrogance or over-confidence from their dominance in the Erne county.
"It has been a case of taking it each year at a time. when you win it one year, you want to try and make an impression in Ulster. when that doesn't work out, you take a step back and try and make another impact in Fermanagh.
"Within the county people probably know that, I wouldn't say we always expect to get to the final, but we always have that as our main target when we set out at the beginning of the year.
"There's definitely no arrogance, we always try and be as humble as we can, take it a game at a time, and follow the process".