Magherafelt don’t want to be ‘one hit wonders’.
AFTER beating the favourites Glen in the Derry county final, delivering the club’s first senior championship in over four decades, one might expect Magherafelt to putthe feet up.
Certainly those of us in the business of trying to predict winners of the Ulster Club championship have been tempted to run a line through Magherafelt as contenders.
The rubric is that a team who has not won their senior championship in recent years, will ignore the Ulster Championship training sessions, and instead stay on the session in the pubs of Magherafelt.
But according to O’Donovan Rossa’s Conor Kearns, the focus is very much on competing in Ulster, and they have put the partying behind them, and they are excited about Ulster.
“All the drinking sessions are over,” he said.
“It was tough, but we have got back to training.
“I have talked to a few people about it. I was asking Sammy Bradley (Slaughtneil) about it. He said it is a competition like no other: how competitive it is, the publicity it gets, the different type of football that is played, you don’t know about your opponents.”
The venues are new to Conor Kearns as well. He said that he has played in a lot of stadia in Ulster, but this will be his first time playing in Pairc Esler.
“It means I am looking forward to it even more.”
While they are turning their attentions to Ulster, they still want to bask in the glory of their Senior Championship victory, the club’s first in 41 years.
Kearns said that he has been surprised by the outpouring of emotions in the aftermath of the win.
“When you saw the crowds on the pitch you knew what it meant to them,” Kearns said.
“Though I don’t think we will realise what it means until we sit down in the next couple of weeks.
“This year was the first time that we had even got to the semi-final. That made it sweeter.”
What also made it sweet was how Magherafelt managed to bounce back from last year’s debacle, when they were criticised for their defensive display against Slaughtneil.
Up against the Emmett’s, Magherafelt sat back, and soaked up the pressure.
The video of their 15-men-behind the ball performance did the rounds, and they were criticised, particularly after they lost that game.
“If Adrian (Cush), had have left after that we would have been starting from scrach. It takes a couple of years for a team to settle.”
Kearns said that Magherafelt had a number of minors coming into the squad, Conor McCluskey, Simon McErlain and Guiseppe Lupari for example.
They need time to bed into the top level of football in the county, and that involved learning Cush’s system.
“We have a system of play. Teams find it hard to break down. It comes from a mindset and experience.”
Kearns said that in that system, his role had changed on the team. He used to be a defensive player, always sitting back and trying to read the game. Under Cush, he has licence to attack. When the ball breaks down, he knows he can get forward, as the likes of Jared Monaghan will sit back.
“When you are centre half-back you are facing up the field. You have to be a lot smarter about reading the game. I am enjoying it to be fair.”
Kearns is a player who has enjoyed plenty of success as a player. He has won championships from u-14 through to minor level. He was part of the group that won the minor title in 2010 who went on to reach the Ulster final.
“I thought that success would carry on into senior, but it didn’t.”
Until now that is.
Though their next game is against a side who are very familiar with senior success. Down champions Kilcoo.
Kearns and the rest of the Magherafelt team have watched Kilcoo’s run of success in the Mourne county.
“It shows how tough Ulster is that they have not won it,” Kearns said.
They also saw them back in 2011, when the two teams met in the semifinal of the St Paul’s tournament.
“I think they were the favourites at the start of that tournament.
“After we beat them we thought we had it won.”
Things didn’t pan out for Magherafelt.
After beating Kilcoo in the minor semi-final, they lost to Antrim champions Lamh Dhearg.
Yet reaching the final suggested that Magherafelt were in great shape, and would push on at senior level.
The success was not immediate though. Kearns explained that between 2010 and 2017 the club had very few players come onto the panel from the minors.
They have addressed that situation and now the squad is young. They won the Derry u-21 championship last year and a lot of that team are filtering onto the senior team.
Kilcoo will be well prepared for Magherafelt. Kearns knows that for sure.
“Mickey Moran (the Kilcoo manager) will know more about us than other teams.
“It is going to be tough. Kilcoo played Burren twice. They have a championship pedigree.”
Win or lose this weekend, Magherafelt are looking to the future with great optimism. They want to keep the success going in 2020 and beyond.
Kearns said: “Next year will be tougher. Teams will be targetting us. We will be the bench mark. For the first time in a long time teams will look a the championship and they won’t wan to get Magherafelt.
“That adds pressure. But we don’t want to be a one-hit wonder.
“I was talking to a Loup man recently. They won the championship in 2009 but have not won it since. We don’t want that to happen to us.”