The atmosphere has been a little different in the dressing room this week. Both players and management have tried to make it seem as normal as possible, but when it comes to the last few days before an FAI Intermediate Cup final, the excitement can’t be kept at bay.
Eoghan Lougheed has been here before, but it’s not something he’ll ever get used to. This is the pinnacle of amateur football in Ireland, and no amount of success can make it feel like the norm.
Avondale United go into tomorrow afternoon’s final looking to achieve an historic three-in-a-row, and with both sides joint top of the roll of honour, it’s a chance for the victor to stand out on their own as the tournament’s top dog.
The Cork side are the holders, unbeaten in all competitions to date this season and haven’t conceded a goal en route to the final. That, justifiably, makes them favourites.
But favouritism isn’t a tag which rests comfortably on the shoulders of Lougheed and his team-mates.
“It’s hard to say, you don’t want to be favourites but then again you don’t want to be the complete underdog either,” he said.
“There’s a pressure on us because we’ve been unbeaten for so long. We always want to keep a clean sheet and we put ourselves under pressure to do it – that gives you a sense of the mentality there. It’s a team effort, we set high targets and the pressure comes from ourselves.”
Lougheed has been involved in four Intermediate Cup finals, tasting both triumph and defeat. While three successes were sweet, it’s the failure in 2010 he remembers most — if only to serve as a reminder, a motivational tool to make sure it’s something he’ll never experience again.
“It was a horrible feeling,” he says of that 3-1 defeat to Crumlin United.
“It’s brought up more often than the wins by the team because we never want to feel like that. It’s awful travelling down from Dublin losing and you never forget that experience. We don’t want it to happen again, we don’t want to feel like that.”
And while he hopes that fear can help them over the line against a Bluebell side whose hunger for glory is ravenous, after a barren spell of 13 years, he also admits it’s hard to suppress the butterflies which grow during the run-up.
“There’s a little bit of a difference this week to the rest of the season, even if we try to keep things the same. It’s hard to stay away from all the trimmings that come with it. There’s the extra stuff like interviews, stepping in for an extra few photos, but it’s important to keep our mind on it and treat it as a game like any other.”
In the opposite corner, much of the focus has been on Trevor Molloy. The 36-year-old is expected to hang up his boots at full-time tomorrow after a career which saw him win three League of Ireland titles and play a starring role in Brian Kerr’s famous 1997 Ireland youth team.
But Lougheed is confident Avondale have the experience to combat a marquee player looking to finish his distinguished career on a high note – even if their own Mr Consistency, Declan Cahill, will be missing from the defence due to suspension.
“Trevor has been a great player down the years, but he’s not the only one. They have a great pedigree in this tournament, they’ve a similar record to ourselves but our success has been more recent. They must be very hungry for it too, seeing as they have lost their two most recent finals.
As for Cahill: “He has been a major part in our success and for him to miss out is awful. We couldn’t even celebrate the semi-final because of it, his loss took the shine off it for us.”
Avondale have endeavoured to keep Cahill involved as much as possible – Lougheed just hopes his teammates give him something to celebrate come 5pm tomorrow.