Billy Morgan, perched in front of the sitting room television, is counting down to the start of the Arsenal v Bayern Munich Champions League tie.
With 12 minutes to kick-off, he is assured the conversation with yours truly will be brisk.
Straight into it then and first mention of today’s opponents yields a return to 2012 and that semi-final clash in Galway.
UCC, reigning champions at the time, were widely fancied to dispose of John Divilly’s Kildare outfit. The formbook, however, was dumped into the River Corrib and NUI Maynooth scored a famous three-point win to secure a first final place since 1976.
Morgan’s assessment of the defeat is brutally honest: “We underestimated them; we thought we had the measure of them.”
The seeds of complacency had been sown a couple of days before the clash when Morgan and his panel watched Maynooth’s quarter-final victory over UCD on DVD.
“They had beaten UCD in the quarter-final and the worst thing we could have done was allow the lads watch a video of that game. They looked very ordinary in the game and we thought we would easily have too much for them. They caught us on the hop that day, no doubt about it.”
Both teams bare very different complexions to when they last locked horns, most noticeable being Maynooth’s recent alumni of footballer of the year Michael Darragh MacAuley. Asked what he knew of Sean O’Toole’s outfit, Morgan replied: “Well I know they have Michael Darragh MacAuley. He’s the one player everyone has been talking about on their run to the semi-final.”
Far from it being a one-man show, however, and the former Cork boss acknowledges the impressive form of Donegal’s Paddy McBrearty (1-3 against GMIT last time out), Eamonn Wallace (Meath) and Paul Cribben (Kildare).
“I suppose these are the guys that have been making the headlines for them, these are familiar figures on the inter-county circuit; these are the guys we will have to watch.”
UCC, it is fair to add, do not lay claim to as many household names in their ranks and with only three survivors — Eoin O’Mahony, Conor Cox and Luke Connolly — from the team that lined out against DIT in last year’s decider, Morgan has had to mould an entirely new force.
“Isn’t that the beauty of third-level football though? Isn’t that where the enjoyment and the challenges lie in the fact there is so much change in personnel year-on-year?
“We have had to construct basically a new team this year but the lads have been very enthusiastic. We are without big name players this year. Regardless, each player has worked very hard and I am confident these lads will go on to become household names in the future.
“We’ve had only the one session since beating CIT. It is hard to get them altogether because most clubs have started back training and then most of the lads are involved at inter-county level, be it U21 or senior. We met Monday to watch back the game against CIT. There were plenty of positives to take from it. We started very well and we even could have another couple of scores added to the 1-2 we hit early on. There was no shadow boxing on our part, we tore into them from the start and that is always encouraging to see. It is important we make the same kind of start now on Friday.”
7.42pm, now back to matters Champions League.
Four to watch
Brian O’Driscoll (UCC)
While his inter-county future is likely to be in the half-back line, Billy Morgan has always been willing to use such players in the half-forwards, think Jimmy Kerrigan, Barry Coffey, Seán O’Brien, John Miskella. O’Driscoll is ideally suited to such a role, as his energy means he covers acres of ground, but he is more than capable of scoring too.
Dean Kelly (NUI Maynooth)
It would be easy to be a passenger alongside the current Footballer of the Year at midfield, but Kelly complements the play of Michael Dara Macauley. Up against UCC’s Cork U21 pairing of Ian Maguire and Seán Kiely, their battle is likely to be key in deciding who reaches tomorrow’s final.
Caolán O’Boyle (UUJ)
The Derry attacker earned his county a draw against Tyrone in the Allianz Football League opener, but such exploits would not be a surprise to anybody who has seen him with Jordanstown. Their whole full-forward line links beautifully and it wouldn’t surprise if he finished the weekend as top scorer.
Pádraic Harnan (UCD)
The Moynalvey clubman is a nephew of former Meath star Liam and earned himself a place on the Meath panel in 2013 when just out of minor, winning the county’s young player of the year award. Has been a stand-out performer during UCD’s run to date and is sure to feature for the Royals later in the year.
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