One final step for MacDonaghs

IT WAS the persistence of two men carrying a Gaelic football torch in the hurling heartland of north Tipperary that finally twisted Chris Conway’s arm.

A 2003 Leinster SFC medallist with Laois, Conway first came into contact with Pat Murphy via his son, Stephen, who was a student at Knockbeg College while Conway worked there as a teacher and football coach.

Pat Murphy and Joe Hannigan are renowned as arguably the two most staunch football fanatics in the north division and they had a vision for Thomas MacDonaghs, a team currently represented by six clubs in north Tipp.

And that vision has now become a reality, as Thomas MacDonaghs will become the first North Tipperary team since Kilruane MacDonagh’s in 1975 to contest a county senior football final when they tackle the mighty Moyle Rovers in Cashel next Sunday.

Hannigan’s son George, a Tipperary senior player, should feature at some stage after returning home from South America, although the flame-haired midfielder is carrying an injury.

But certain to fill one of the two midfield berths is Pat Murphy’s son Stephen, a Kilruane MacDonagh’s clubman who scored two points in the recent and famous semi-final victory over 14-time county senior champions Clonmel Commercials.

With Father John Kenyons pulling out of the north senior championship this year, MacDonagh’s were crowned de facto divisional champions and gained entry to the quarter-finals of the county series.

But they’ve more than justified their presence in the competition since then and Conway is glad that he grabbed the opportunity to give full commitment to MacDonagh’s.

He was first asked to get involved three years ago but a cruciate knee ligament injury put paid to that.

Two years ago, Conway had a more direct involvement as MacDonagh’s beat Kenyons in the north final but came a cropper against Aherlow in the county quarter-final. Last year was another non-runner as Conway’s club Arles-Kilcruise made it to a second successive county final in Laois, again losing out to Portlaoise in the O’Moore decider, while hurling and Tipperary’s march to All-Ireland senior glory dominated the north Tipperary landscape.

But this time, it’s fallen into place for Conway, who became a father six weeks ago when wife Denise gave birth to George.

Conway, 33, smiled: “I got a call midsummer and we were still involved ourselves and Denise was pregnant. When Joe rang first I had to turn him down.

“When we were beaten by Portlaoise [county quarter-final] he wasn’t long about ringing again. Persistence paid off but he didn’t let go.

“It was only a few days after losing to Portlaoise when Denise had the child and needless to say, I’m lucky to get away the odd night to do a bit of training.”

Although MacDonagh’s have been fortunate in the sense that their players were knocked out of the SHC early in the campaign, U21 hurling and club football commitments have dragged at resources.

This very evening, six, and possibly seven, panellists will play for Kildangan in the Munster JFC quarter-final against Limerick’s Sean Finns at the Gaelic Grounds.

Darragh Egan, Dan Hackett and Joe Gallagher are three players who will start for MacDonagh’s next Sunday. Ruairí Gleeson, Rory Whelan and Fergie Hayes will play tonight and are also MacDonagh’s panel members while Tommy Connors, currently away on holidays, may be back for the weekend.

Conway admits the situation is far from ideal but they’re the cards he’s been dealt and he’s prepared to play them.

“Joe Gallagher had to play U21 championship last week and there are a couple of lads with Shannon Rovers, Alan Hannigan and Pádraig O’Meara, who played U21 on the Saturday and the Bank Holiday Monday, with both games going to extra time.

“But you work with these permutations. I know how important hurling is to lads in Tipperary and it’s largely thanks to the likes of Joe and Pat that football has been kept alive and developed as a senior team.

“They all play junior and intermediate with their own individual clubs but it’s a great opportunity to come and pit themselves against the best of the county.”

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