Luck is supposed to even itself out over the course of a football season. Try telling that to a Drum footballer.
Michael Wilson reports
Since Conor O’Kane’s memorable 50 yard injury-time point broke Lissan hearts in 2006 and brought St. Colm’s their sixth and most recent Championship victory, they have appeared in three county finals. The law of averages would suggest that the county’s most successful Junior club could be expected to have come out on top in at least one of those finals. Except Championship football doesn’t work like that.
First Lissan, then Sean Dolan’s and last year Doire Trasna have condemned Drum players to the role of ‘forgotten men’ come the final whistle on Championship Final day. It is a cruel role to have to fulfil even once and St. Colm’s midfielder James McCartney, who has played in all three defeats, is adamant he doesn’t want to experience it again.
“Aye, this is our fourth final in the last few years but we seem to be more bridesmaids than bride because we have only won the one back in 2006,” he admitted, “I have played in all three finals that we lost and it is not nice to be on the wrong side of the scoreboard in a championship final.”
On the eve of this season’s decider Drum looked to be well set to end their hoodoo. Indifferent league form was put to the side as it always is with Drum as the team progressed to the final. Even an opening group game defeat to the team they will meet in the final, Ardmore, offered cause for optimism.
Drum ran St Mary’s ragged for most of the opening half with Rory O’Reilly causing havoc for William McLaughlin’s back line. However a failure to translate their dominance onto the scoreboard and a contentious penalty on the stroke of half-time changed the game, as did a decision to take O’Reilly out of the scoring zone. Ardmore went on to win but Drum had shown they could hurt their rivals.
Then, with things moving nicely into place, key midfielder Paddy McCloskey tore his cruciate ligament. Worse was to follow when play-maker Donal Brolly was shown a straight red card in the semi-final. But this is where things have maybe started to change for in Drum’s recent Championship story. The loss of Brolly could have been terminal to Drum hopes but the suspension which would have kept him out of tomorrow’s final was overturned on appeal on Wednesday night, freeing him to play. It could prove a pivotal decision.
“Paddy is certainly a big player for us and he will be a loss but you can’t be thinking about people who are not playing, we have to look at the players we have and we’re still capable of winning if we can play to our best,” added McCartney.
“We are due a win, definitely, but you never know in Championship football. We have a couple of good young players coming in, like Conor O’Reilly, but we have to make sure we get decent ball into the likes of him and Rory O’Reilly. If we can then it is up to those boys to take the chances.
“Our league form has not been good but that doesn’t matter this weekend. Championship football is a different thing altogether. The results from previous games count for nothing.
“I’m expecting it to be another very tight game, there is never a lot between ourselves and Ardmore. I can’t see more than one or two points being between the teams at the end and it will likely come down to which team wants to win it more.
“We’ll be doing everything we can to win it. The numbers at training haven’t been great this season but everything we have done has been done for this game. This is our whole season in sixty minutes. That’s what it boils down to and I’m confident if we can play anything like we are capable, then we can win it.”
McCartney is hoping a Championship victory can go some way to making up for a disappointing season for Drum who would have harboured hopes of promotion from a division which McCartney feels needs revamping.
“To be honest the situation with Junior Football in Derry at the minute is not good. I would love to get out of Division Three but it is a no-win situation because you don’t want to go up and suffer heavy defeats which then puts the boys off training and heads go down. That’s what happened the last time we went up. We should have won our first two games and if we had our entire season could have been different.
“Instead we lost in the last minute of our first game and were unlucky in our second. We got a couple of boys sent-off and the season went downhill from there. It is something for the County Board to look at because the current set-up doesn’t help anyone.”
The league argument however, is for another day and McCartney will be doing everything in his power to secure his second Championship medal tomorrow.
“Ardmore are always a team that is very hard to beat. They have experienced players and a couple of very speedy corner-forwards that will have to be watched. You could see with the group game how close the teams are. We should have been well ahead at half-time. Instead we didn’t take our chances and Ardmore came back. That’s the difference. If you get chances against a team like Ardmore you have to take them or they make you pay.
“I will be over the moon on Saturday if I get my second Championship medal but we know there is a lot of hard work ahead of us before that,” he added.