IMAGINE what you could do with two months off.
Relax? Travel? Holiday?
What you wouldn’t expect to do with that amount of time is wait for an Ulster Club Championship clash to come around but that’s exactly the predicament Derry Champions Drum have found themselves in. 71 Days! That exactly how long St. Colm’s have been waiting since their hugely impressive 2-16 to 1-8 victory over Ardmore in Celtic Park. In fact it is longer than it took the entire Derry Junior Championship to play itself out.
Laragh United will have no such worries. Their Cavan Final defeat of Mountnugent is not such a distant memory which provides a distinct advantage going into the provincial competition making Drum underdogs, a role they have grown accustomed to and indeed, revelled in inside their native county as captain Kevin O’Reilly admits.
“I’m looking forward to it,” explained the 33-year old, “I think the last time we were in Ulster, we treated it as a day trip up to Newcastle as far as I see. We had lost a few boys that day and we were only after losing a play-off to Ballerin but it wasn’t nice.
“I’m treating this like it could be my last game in Ulster. It’s been six years since the last one, they don’t come around that often.”
The ‘day trip’ O’Reilly was referring to was the club’s last Ulster clash in 2006 which was abruptly ended by Down champions Bredagh. Coming off the back of a dramatic win over Lissan in the county final, luck conspired to rob the team of key performers that day though whether bad luck could take full responsibility for a 24-point defeat in another point. They had lost top forward Rory O’Reilly to suspension and the Bredagh game happened to scheduled for the same day as Kevin Lynch’s Ulster Hurling final, in which three Drum players were involved. With a limited panel, those losses were fatal.
The Drum captain is not shortage of experience on the local front. His first championship win came just two years after the last success enjoyed by Sunday’s opponents. He was a goalkeeper on the Drum team that beat Séan Dolan’s in the 1996 final, a team which included his father.
O’Reilly concedes the 71-day sabbatical present it own problems. In that time, they have played just once, a friendly against a Dungiven under-21 team which included six of the team that had started Dungiven’s Senior Championship clash with Ballinderry the week previous.
“I had a few words with the management after we played Dungiven Under-21s, I wasn’t too happy and it was a bad day where it all kind of came to a head, I thought I was finished that night. But two weeks later you’re watching Donegal playing an All-Ireland final and I couldn’t wait to get back out to play. I’m fit enough to go and if I really wanted to, I could play for another five or six years I think. You’re a long time retired, standing watching over a fence,” he adds.
O’Reilly is bucking the trend of moving out the field as he gets older. This season, he has played his best football of the last five years from centre half forward. In the county final against Ardmore, he carried the half-forward line and scored 1-3 as he captained the club to a first championship since 2006. Over the years though, the Drum skipper has tasted from both sides of the Championship Cup.
“We beat Lissan in 2006 and we were lucky but we went back out against them the following year and they were like we were this year, they just weren’t going to lose. They blew us away that day. Then against Dolan’s, we didn’t score in the first half and there was a crowd of maybe 3,000 people built up, it was embarrassing.
“But last year was the hardest one to take. Against Doire Trasna, we had the game won twice and we lost it. We thought if we kept the ball away from their midfield, we would win and their two big men never won a ball all day, but we still lost.
“This year has been tough at times as well, even though there has been silverware at the end of it. Drum have suffered a huge turnover of players in recent years, especially since the ill-fated promotion to intermediate League that saw them play one season and lose all 15 league games. I’d say that set us back 10 years. It was a horrible year.”
Wing-forwards Adrian Cooney and Colm McKenna are the key to how Sunday’s opponents will play. The two drop back into defence and offer great cover to their defensive unit. That allows key forward and captain Patrick Rudden to pull the strings from centre half forward.
While they did outscore Mountnugent by ten scores to five in the Cavan final, it wasn’t a free-scoring performance. Rudden’s points all came from frees and Colm McKenna was the only other forward to register. They had made a change at full-forward before half-time, with Ruairi Power coming in for Liam McKenna, and that could be maintained. They caused a threat from deep though, landing four points from half-back and midfield combined.
For all the threat they carry, Laragh must beware Drum who carry a considerable threat of their. Fast, mobile, accurate and determined. It is a combination O’Reilly is hoping will bring him to a first Ulster victory. “People might say ‘sure it’s only a junior title’, but we’re a junior club. We’re a small club with small numbers and that’s why I’d love to go and win on Sunday. For a club of our size to even win one match at Ulster level, it would be a huge achievement.
“It would put you in a semi-final and you could end up going to play in Casement Park or Clones, that would be great for all the young boys coming up in the club to travel to that game and see where they can end up,” said the Drum skipper.
Sunday’s game will have a 2.30pm throw-in in Kinspan Breffni Park.