On Sunday afternoon our Pádraig Pearses team play St Brigid’s in the Roscommon senior championship final.
Eleven years ago Pearses faced St Brigid’s in what was my first taste of a senior county final, as it was for a number of my current team-mates.
Our under-14 team had just recently won the Féile All-Ireland and we were presented to the crowd at half-time. The senior team were in their first final since 1968 that day. They were denied a maiden championship title however. A young, hungry St Brigid’s team had too much for them.
I still remember the disappointment walking down the steps of Dr Hyde Park, and being back in the clubhouse that evening. If Pearses hadn’t won it by the time we were senior it would be okay, we would do it.
Much of the core group who led that St Brigid's team to victory in 2005 are still to the fore today – their current player-manager Frankie Dolan, Karol Mannion, the Kilbride brothers, Darragh Donnelly. And our own manager, former St Brigid's and Roscommon goalkeeper – Shane Curran.
That St Brigid’s team embarked that day upon the start of an incredible dominance of club football in the province that accounted for eight county titles, four Connacht titles and an All-Ireland in 2013. They set the benchmark, and not only in Roscommon.
This Sunday the fixture repeats itself once more. It’s the same opposition at the same stage. Many of the same St Brigid’s faces. The nucleus of this Pádraig Pearses team though stems from that Féile squad. And those of us who have won under-16, minor, under-21 and even intermediate championship titles on the way to this final. The aim is the same however– to win a first ever senior county title.
Before 2005 St Brigid’s had lost three finals. Hard to believe it now but they were the nearly-men of Roscommon. They’d endured a 28-year wait of their own before that.
Since 2005 Pearses have lost three senior finals. Sunday will be a third final in five years. Last year our near neighbours Clan na nGael bridged an almost 20-year gap to claim the title.
We have put in 130 sessions from early in the year to late October, certain that this Sunday is the time for us to create our own history.
I made my first senior championship start in 2010. Against St Brigid’s. They went on to reach the All-Ireland club final that year, falling one score short of the title they would claim two years later.
That team had a steely focus about them, an ability to grind out a win. They were relentless and I still remember clearly how difficult that game was. All the kind of characteristics our own group now prides itself upon. Those that develop with time, from the victories, and the losses.
Many of our team were involved in the 2012 final, also against St Brigid’s. Pearses were incredibly young that day, facing the eventual All-Ireland champions of that season. Five points separated the teams after a hard fought battle.
We have already met twice this year, once in the championship. We were the top two in the group phase of the competition, qualifying directly into the semi-finals. So the teams certainly know each other well. Both teams are in the final quite simply because they have worked the hardest.
We have been the two best teams this year.
As a guest speaker told our squad recently there is no such thing as luck – what some call luck is just what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
Playing a county final is a lot like the night before Christmas. The date has been in the back of the mind all year.
There’s been the lengthy build up, the clubhouse is decorated, the red and white flags are all out. It’s there, right in front of you. You can almost touch the trophy, see the celebrations. But you remind yourself that you don’t always get what you want, what you deserve or what you think you deserve. And I suppose that’s what keeps you so intently focused. Sunday will all be about who has the greater desire.
The focus is on what it will take and what it will mean for us. And what it will mean to the great club men involved in our team, those who watch our training from the sidelines, those who never miss a match – and those who are no longer with us.
My late uncle John Donoghue managed the team in 2012. He was a player back in 1968. In 2012 he continued his commitment to the team despite being treated for cancer throughout the campaign. All to win that first senior title.
That goes some way to showing just how important winning this game on Sunday is, to so many people. It’s something not even us, the players, wholly grasp. Him and those like him will be there with us too in Kiltoom.
So come Sunday, on St Brigid’s home patch, we’ll arrive knowing that we couldn’t possibly be more prepared and, that there is no better opportunity than this.
St Brigid’s v Padraig Pearses, Sunday 3.30pm in Kiltoom (Live on TG4).