What do you do when your mentality is questioned? When the stain of losing tarnishes your reputation? Perhaps you call Jim McGuinness, or, in Newcastle West’s case, his brother-in-law.
That’s what the Limerick club did at the start of this year in recruiting Antoin McFadden, a Masters student of Sports Science at UL and former Donegal panellist, to help end their 23-year wait for senior silverware.
McFadden played in an U21 All-Ireland final in 2010 under McGuinness and he has been bringing that experience to coaching Newcastle West in their quest for a county title.
“He has broken us physically and mentally at training,” explains Stephen Kelly.
“He has improved us as a team and as individuals.
“Going into the Ballylanders game (in the semi-final) there probably was a mental hang-up about them, given that we had never beaten them in Championship.
“To get over them was a huge mental boost but at the same time we knew we had the hard work done and that if each and every one of us carried out our jobs, we’d be fine.
“Now that the Magpies have conquered one of their bogey teams and the reigning county champions in one fell swoop, only the final hurdle remains.
Kelly is a man with plenty of other distinctions to his name, winning rugby’s All-Ireland League and Munster Senior Cup with Shannon and being linked with Limerick FC and Cork City in soccer.
He represented his country in the International Rules Series and Colm Cooper once said that Kelly was the Limerick player he’d buy in a transfer window.
However his football career with Limerick, where he played in five Munster finals, drawing one and narrowly losing four, has so far mirrored his efforts with Newcastle West.
Tomorrow’s decider will be Kelly’s sixth time lining out in a county final, with five of those against Dromcollogher-Broadford, who now seek their eighth title in 15 years.
The margins have been razor-thin. Two of those finals ended in draws. Both times Drom won the replays; once, painfully, after extra-time.
“In 2012 we should’ve won but Drom hit a last minute equaliser. In the replay they did the very same thing and they took us in extra-time,” remembers Kelly.
“Drom have a lot of experience of winning. We don’t have that experience as such, however the majority of the team that are playing with Newcastle West at the moment have experience winning all the way up from underage, so they bring a good mentality. Time waits for no man and I’m 33 in December. I remember thinking when I was 22 or 23, ‘This will never end’.
“Next thing there were a few injuries, the years creep by and before you know it you’re in your thirties, looking back at a few near misses here and there. But I don’t think you can dwell on those too much — it’s about living in the present. I’m treating it as another match. Yes, it’ll be a big occasion but I have a job to do for the team and if I can do my job for the team, I’ll be happy enough with that.”
Fourteen years ago he had an experience he’ll never forget, winning a County Junior Hurling final with his club.
“I can still remember it vividly — the joy on people’s faces, young and old, throughout the town. That’s a date that we still talk about locally. People still refer to the ‘01 final when we won. It was a great occasion for me.”
Tomorrow is all about creating a new memory.
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