Community focus drove Magheracloone on to Ulster title: Gavin Doogan
MAGHERACLOONE had no choice but to search for the good among all the bad 2019 brought - and it was that hardship which inspired the Monaghan champions to Ulster intermediate glory, according to stalwart Gavin Doogan.
Fourteen months ago the club was left without a home when part of a disused mine collapsed, leaving two huge sinkholes across their pitch and forcing them to train and play at grounds in neighbouring counties.
To add injury to insult, the Mitchel’s were relegated to the intermediate grade four weeks later.
The devastation felt then was in stark contrast to the scenes inside the Athletic Grounds on Saturday night when they saw off Tyrone champions Galbally to land the Packy McCully Cup.
It was the latest stop on a remarkable journey and one that, according to Doogan, has been fuelled by everything the club and community has been through.
“It seemed to be like a bonding thing… the boys were jumping in their cars in fours and fives, travelling up the road, travelling to places we’ve never been before,” said the 32-year-old.
“We just wanted to give something back to the community. We would’ve felt there was a lull in the community and thankfully you see the faces out there and the diehard supporters, our families who would’ve put up with us this last number of months.
“Nearly every club that’s successful has their home hub – this year we didn’t. We used the pitch up in Louth, Annaghminnon, and we were very grateful to all the clubs around us that let us use their facilities.
“Any night the boys got in the car or were asked to travel, there was nothing thought of it. They got there, did their training session, and thankfully we got our reward.”
Considering they were senior county finalists just two years ago, last year’s relegation was a bitter pill to swallow. Yet, just as the community is bouncing back, so the team has re-emerged, ready for whatever the future brings.
“There’s a core group of players there - probably myself, Pete Ward, James [Ward], Tommy [Freeman], but then this year the management took in these young guys who just seem to have an extra pep to their step.
“Training was enjoyable, games were enjoyable… something was different this year. I know obviously we were down in intermediate grade but we never probably enjoyed football as much in a long time as we did this year.
“The management can take a lot of credit for that, they really installed a lovely bond among us. When you think back to the year we had, it was tough, we got relegated obviously, we lost our clubhouse, our pitch, but the community rallied in behind us, and nights like this make it all worthwhile.”
Next on the agenda is an All-Ireland semi-final date against the winners of this weekend’s Leinster decider between Mattock Rangers (Louth) and Mullinavat (Kilkenny) at the start of January.
Veterans like Doogan, Michael Jones and James Ward will relish the challenge as much as the emerging young talent within the Magheracloone ranks, while Tommy Freeman will get to showcase his skills on the All-Ireland stage once more.
The 38-year-old was superb on Saturday night and while his performance level may have shocked some onlookers, it came as no surprise to a man who has stood alongside him every step of the way.
“Tommy Freeman’s a gem in our parish; he’s our hidden treasure,” said Doogan.
“He’s in there with the guys in the inside line, he’s helping them out, talking to them at training, before games, bringing them on. We’re very blessed to have a player of Tommy Freeman’s level in our parish.
“We saw what he did this year, he has it all, he can reel in the years when he wants. Many times tonight you saw him kicking off the left, off the right, it’s a joy to play with him.”