A few moments before Patrick Fox spoke to TG4 after Sunday’s AIB Leinster club final win, he learned who Mullinalaghta would be playing next.
It turns out that having moved heaven and earth to dispatch one set of Crokes, they’ll face another in mid-February when they meet Kerry’s Dr Crokes in the All-Ireland semi-finals.
“I didn’t even realise that until I went over to the TG4 boys and saw (the fixture) on the screen, I hadn’t a clue who we were playing,” said Fox.
That sort of tunnel vision was required for the tiny club from the half-parish in north-east Longford to stand any chance of beating the four-time winners.
Fox, in particular, was handed arguably the most difficult task in Tullamore when he was detailed to mark Crokes’ back-to-back All-Star forward Paul Mannion.
Mannion came into the game with 3-17 registered from his last three games but was held scoreless from play by Fox, the man-of-the-match.
The suspicion beforehand had been that Donal McElligott, who’d held Diarmuid Connolly to a point when Mullinalaghta played St Vincent’s two years ago, might mark Mannion.
“When Paul was in the full-forward line I took him, when he went out to the half-forward line, Donie took him, that was how we worked it,” explained Fox, though the reality was that Mannion spent virtually all of the game close to goal in Fox’s territory.
“He spent most of that time in the full-forward line but the bottom line was that we didn’t go out to change our plan. You can get too hung up on what the other team are doing.
“Myself and Donie had a word beforehand between ourselves and we said, ‘When he’s in the full-forward line it falls to me, when he goes out to the half-forward I pass him off to you, Donie’. We kept our shape and just played as we always played.”
Of all the intriguing angles to emerge from the landmark win, that was perhaps the most exciting, that a minnow team could beat a top Dublin side without resorting to crude defensive tactics or wildly altering their own gameplan.
Still, it was a dangerous ploy because in 2015, when then Longford manager Jack Sheedy came up against Dublin in the Championship, he similarly refused to park the bus and insisted on going toe-to-toe. Longford lost by 27 points.
Fox was one of five Mullinalaghta players in the Longford line-up last June when Dublin hammered them again in the Championship, this time by 19 points. Against that background, it was a brave call to go man-on-man against the best club in Dublin though Fox felt they’d earned the right to do so.
“Last year, we felt we were a bit unlucky against St Loman’s,” he said. “I won’t say we had them beaten but we were four points up with a couple of minutes to go and we threw it away. This year, we came back with determination, we felt the experience would stand us having felt that heartbreak last year. We said we were going to drive it on this year.”
That’s an understatement given the shockwaves sent through the GAA world by Mullinalaghta’s win on Sunday, the first for any Longford side in the Leinster senior club championship.
“It’s unbelievable, yeah, because there were some great teams before us from Longford that couldn’t do it,” said Fox.
They may not be finished here either, even if they’ll go into the Dr Crokes game in February, long odds-against.
“They’re an unbelievable side, they have All-Ireland medals in that team and an unbelievable panel,” Fox said of the Killarney side that can afford to keep Colm Cooper on the bench. “It’s something to look forward to but we’re going to take this week first and celebrate and then enjoy Christmas and knuckle down after that.”
The result means that new Longford manager Padraic Davis will be without Fox and the rest of the Mullinalaghta contingent for the start of the National League. In effect, the county team will be punished for the success of their leading club though Fox simply shrugged.
“I think there’s about eight of us in the panel with Longford this year, it’s probably a bit tough on them,” he said.
The obvious hope long-term is that the club win can inspire the county team.
“I think Longford is the kind of county at senior level that has always punched above its weight anyway,” said Fox. “This year, I thought we were unlucky against Kildare. We pushed them very close and Kildare were on a massive run at the time. But hopefully this can drive on Longford as well. The club scene is strong in the county and it’s a boost for everyone there too. We were lucky to get out of the county this year, extremely lucky to get out of it. Then we went on and won Leinster so all the other clubs in Longford can take credit from that as well.”