GAA Football

McCusker: Glen have to make the most of 'golden era'

Glen successfully defended their Derry title with a comprehensive victory over Slaughtneil last month. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Neil Loughran

THE successful defence of their Derry crown proved Glen are no flash in the pan – and the challenge now is for the club’s golden generation to “maximise” their potential, according to Fergal P McCusker.

Having lifted the John McLaughlin Cup for the first time in 2021, Glen swept to this year’s county title in convincing fashion, seeing off parish rivals Slaughtneil 1-12 to 0-7 in a one-sided decider last month.

That victory sent them into Sunday’s Ulster Championship quarter-final showdown against Tyrone kingpins Errigal Ciaran, and bookies have already made the Wattys favourites for provincial glory and second favourites – behind this year’s beaten finalists, Kilmacud Croke’s – to land the All-Ireland.

Former minor manager McCusker was involved with several of the current crop as they made their way through, with a run of four straight Ulster titles at the St Paul’s tournament between 2011-2014 laying the foundations for what has followed.

And the 1993 All-Ireland winner knows that, at the top level of all sport, it’s crucial to strike while the iron is hot.

“The key for us this year was to retain the Derry title, and cement the fact it wasn’t just a one-off - to show that there is something about this team,” he said.

“All sorts of things were being said… second year syndrome, it’ll be difficult for Glen, so to win it in the style we did was very satisfying.

“We had never won a championship in our history until last year. I played in some good Glen teams and some bad Glen teams in the past, but it was always thrown at you that you weren’t good enough, or you hadn’t the balls, you’re a town team - this, that and the other. Then suddenly we win a championship last year and all those things go away.

“But we’re as realistic as anywhere else. We know this is our golden era, and in golden eras you have to enjoy them while you’re living through them, but you have to maximise them as well.

“Retaining the Derry title, that puts you on a path then to climb a mountain.”

An indication of how close Glen are, and perhaps lending weight to pre-championship odds, is the fine margins that separated them and eventual All-Ireland champions Kilcoo when the pair met in last year’s Ulster semi-final.

The Magpies eventually edged ahead in extra-time, and that experience is sure to stand to Malachy O’Rourke’s men at Celtic Park on Sunday.

Yet taking on an Errigal side emboldened by landing a first county title in 10 years represents “a step into the unknown” for both, insists McCusker.

“I was gobsmacked last year that Glen were second favourites for the All-Ireland, never mind Ulster, after winning a game against St Eunan’s that could have gone either way. We’re already second favourites this year and we haven’t kicked a ball in Ulster yet.

“When you go into the Ulster championship, unless you’re coming up against someone you’ve played before, it’s very difficult to gauge. Sunday is a big step into the unknown for both. Look at the game last weekend - Crossmaglen went in as big favourites but Ballybay were sitting in the long grass and turned them over.

“Experience is important. We didn’t have any, then suddenly you win your first Derry title and you can see the difference. Physically, there is a difference between Glen this year and last.

“Malachy and Ryan [Porter] were only in last year, it was brilliant to win our first county title, and we have another full year of working under the two boys. They have had more opportunity to implement the kind of play they want.

“We’ve lost Ciaran McFaul, the fulcrum of our success last year, but conversely Cathal Mulholland has had his first injury-free season in a long time, which is a massive bonus.

“So what we’ve lost one way, we’ve gained in another.”

GAA Football