Steelstown will be ready for All Ireland semi-final test against Na Gaeil says manager Hugh McGrath

AIB All Ireland Intermediate Club Championship: Steelstown v Na Gaeil (Kerry)

Steelstown manager Hugh McGrath says Saturday’s All Ireland Intermediate Club semi-final against Kerry’s Na Gaeil will be the biggest match of his career . . . and he can’t wait for it to start!

Co. Down native McGrath is no stranger to the big stage having been part of the management team for Ulster U20 championship successes with Derry but not even that can compare to leading out your own club on the All Ireland stage according to the Brian Ogs manager.

“It’s uniquely different when you are the manager of your club,” explains McGrath, “It is totally different.

Steelstown Brian Ogs manager Hugh McGrath. (Photo: George Sweeney)

“The club has been unbelievable this week. The buzz, genuinely, has been something to experience and everyone is enjoying the build up to the match. Even things like our social media, it’s mad how many new people have been signing up to it and it’s great to see the profile of the club being raised. It has gone through the roof but that’s what it’s all about. That’s why you want a bit of success about the place.

“Every game we play at the moment seem to be the new ‘biggest’ game but I’m quite lucky to have had a few ‘firsts’ in my time and I’m comfortable enough in my own skin though to say I think we are ready for it. No matter what the buzz and the noise around the game is, no matter what the opposition are talking about, I think we’re well prepared.

“We were very quickly able to focus on ourselves (after the Ulster final against Moortown) because we have only limited knowledge of Na Gaeil. We looked at their strengths, who we thought we would have to keep an eye on and then from there on in, it was about, ‘Right, what are we going to do?’ ‘How can we put them on the back foot?’”

Unknown territory has become dream territory for the city club and while McGrath acknowledges Na Gaeil will provide their sternest test yet, he says his team will not be intimidated by the challenge.

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“The All Ireland semi-final is just like starting out on the Ulster campaign again, you don’t really know what you are coming up against. You can watch all the videos you want, watch a team live but until you get those first five minutes under the belt you’ve no clue what’s ahead of you.

“There are so many unknowns ahead of a game like this, especially for a side like us who are at this stage for the first time. All you can do is concentrate on what you can control and that’s your own performance. We’ve come through some tough tests to make it this far.”

And Saturday is likely to be another acid test for a Brian Ogs team who have grown through every game en route to Ulster glory. Last December Na Gaeil beat Beaufort by 0-13 to 1-7 in a league play-off to gain promotion to senior football in Kerry.

Steelstown have had four games to reach this stage while the Kerry side have had just two and had it not been for a brilliant Devin Burns save against Tipperary champions, Drom-Inch in the Munster semi-final then Na Gaeil team could well have been out. That save came at a stage were the Tipp men were in control. However Na Gael rallied to win by 1-10 to 0-9 with Darragh Carmody scoring 1-7.

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In the final against Corofin of Clare they led at the interval by 2-4 to 0-7 with the Clare champions collapsing in the third quarter to end up beaten by 6-15 to 1-12. In a recent county game Na Gaeil men Jack Barry and Stefan Okumbur formed the Kerry midfield partnership against Limerick which shows their pedigree. Okumbar has returned from a spell in Aussie Rules with Geelong and has won an All Ireland minor medal with Kerry playing at full back.

Car trouble prevented McGrath from making that Munster decider in person but Steelstown were represented. The Brian Ogs boss was not surprised by Na Gaeil’s emphatic win and is expecting an open game on Saturday.

“We knew how strong Na Gaeil were before the final so it wasn’t a big surprise to see them winning so convincingly,” adds McGrath, “I think the semi-final was a much tougher test for them but we will be concentrating on ourselves.

“Our boys have a refreshing naivety abut them in the sense that they don’t really pay attention to the opposition, they just try to play their own game. We have watched the videos and have an idea of what Na Gaeil are about but you can focus too much on the opposition.

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“I have always gone with the thinking that the only thing we are in control of is ourselves and our own performance. I’ve always said we can’t worry about anyone else because we can’t control what they are going to do. If we are on our game, we have enough good footballers around us and a good enough game-plan that we won’t be far away.”

With the exception of keeper Marty Dunne who was injured in the Derry county final, McGrath has a full squad to select from and competition is intense for a place on the starting 15 for the match at the Connacht Centre of Excellence in Claremorris.

“There is real competition for places which mean training is full tilt no matter what is happening,” he adds, “The boys don’t realise any sort of an occasion. It is just another game which could give us a chance to win another trophy, that’s our attitude so we will give it a real go.

“It is a bit of a throw-back in that there is only so much analysis you can do of opposition but we are built for that, it suits us. We can adapt and are flexible enough. If we need to change things we can change things, even just on the field and we also have the luxury of the boys off the bench. We are lucky in that because we have good footballers and if you have good footballers that works for you.

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“Yes, it was a low scoring day in the Ulster final but conditions didn’t lend themselves to a high scoring game plus Moortown set up a very specific way. Na Gaeil will not set up like that and I see it being as high scoring as you get from a game at the end of January. I don’t think either team will set up defensively. Both teams strengths are going forward so it will be an interesting clash.”

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