By Damian Dolan
Tir Chonaill Gaels’ homegrown team have the chance to make more history on Sunday when they take on Thomas McCurtains in the VGC Services intermediate championship final (3:30pm) at McGovern Park.
It took TCG’s all English-born lads eight years to win junior, having embarked on their journey in 2011, but now it appears there’s no stopping them.
It remains to be seen if the fact that this TCG team can’t be promoted – the club already has a pretty handy senior team – will take some of the intensity out of Sunday’s final.
The answer, most likely, is no. Fergal Cunningham’s team will want the accolade of winning back-to-back titles. They’re a hungry bunch these young Greenford Gaels.
Not content with recording a first-ever intermediate championship win over St Brendan’s in Round 1 – Ryan Kearney, Kieran Clarke and Clive Mills doing the bulk of the scoring – they’ve pushed on since then.
After losing to McCurtains in Round 2, they secured their place in the last four with a thumping 18-point win over Cuchulainns.
They bettered that by knocking out many peoples’ favourites for the intermediate title, St Josephs, in the semi-finals.
TCG upset the odds to win by 0-12 to 1-6. A mightily impressive result in light of some of the Joes’ performances of late.
Kearney, Clarke and Mills will lead the TCG attack on Sunday, but having managed just three Kearney frees in the second half of their group meeting with McCurtains they’ll need to find a way to be more prolific than that.
Regardless of the outcome, McCurtains, who last won intermediate way back in 2007, know they can look forward to senior championship football next year.
A timely and fitting achievement with the club due to celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2020.
But Pop Geraghty’s McCurtains will want to ‘go up’ as intermediate winners – they won’t want to be promoted by virtue of a default.
Forced to accept a share of the spoils by a late Cuchulainns rally in Round 1, McCurtains bounced back to beat TCG and St Brendan’s. The latter win was significant.
Twelve months earlier, three late Brendans points had snatched a draw and booked their place in the semi-finals, and left McCurtains out in the cold.
No mistake this time by McCurtains and in their semi-final they beat Eire Og by 1-8 to 0-7. Conor Murphy’s goal just before the break proving crucial.
TCG and McCurtains’ Round 2 meeting saw Geraghty’s charges come out on top by 1-12 to 0-9. As a barometer, though, it has limited bearing.
McCurtains’ need was undoubtedly the greater that day, and it showed.
Niall Coffey bossed matters for McCurtains, popping up all over the pitch and stringing things together. If Coffey is allowed to play, he will cause TCG problems.
But he’s only one of several key men for McCurtains. Full forward Conor Murphy scored 1-2 in the win over TCG and is always a threat.
McCurtains, who have already secured the Shiels Cup this year, will look to the likes of John McGuigan and John Rafferty to help provide the ammunition for Murphy. Both found space in which to operate against TCG last time out.
Danny Ryan, who won a senior title with St Kiernan’s in 2016, has been a useful addition to the McCurtains midfield.
Paddy McGuigan is an inspirational figure at centre back, while Mark McGirr, who has been sparingly used this year as he continues to work his way back from injury, is a more than useful man to bring off the bench.
It’s an intriguing final on so many levels. Only TCG will know if they’ve already exceeded their own aspirations by reaching the final.
They’re young, for the most part, but one senses they are fully aware of the chance before them to create some truly unique history.
McCurtains are a club on the up – quite literally – and their rise on and off the pitch can only draw admiring glances. They’ve also got a taste for silverware in recent years, and Sunday is another opportunity.