A new challenge awaits Magherafelt when they face Kilcoo this weekend. (Pic: Mary K Burke)
Your first Ulster Club appearance since 1978 could come a lot easier than a side that are preparing to appear for the seventh appearance in the last eight years.
Kilcoo are a machine in the Mourne County but, are still going in search of their maiden provincial crown. Seventeen Down senior titles have yielded no success at provincial or national level.
Not many, if any, would have tipped Magherafelt to claim John McLaughlin this year and even less will tip them to beat a Mickey Moran-minded Kilcoo.
But Magherafelt are here on merit, they’ve held the underdog tag for all but one of their championship games this season.
It appears that they thrive off, of it but, for selector Paul Quinn it has been one game at a time, one challenge before the other from the outset.
“The target at the start of the year was to win the first round. Everything just snowballed from there.
Whenever you get drawn against Coleraine in the first round you, don’t look much further than that. So, all of our energy went on trying to win and get over the line on that first game and everything has just snowballed after that.”
If there was ever a worry of the Rossa men freezing on the big stage, any such thought was obliterated by a performance that both players and management alike have deemed as one of their best.
“For a lot of the build-up we were just worried that the players might freeze bit, they didn’t and they actually produced what we have thought to be their best performance of the year.
“That is something that is very satisfying for not only us as the management but, for the players too.
“We’ve a good celebration but, we got back out to training on Thursday evening and we were back out yesterday morning (Sunday).
“There is just your usual knocks and niggles but we are hoping to have everyone back for next week but, aside from that we’ve a full bill of health.”
But attentions have definitely turned back to football and their eyes are firmly set on ambushing the Magpies in the Marshes.
“Attention has definitely turned back to football, lads were still going into primary schools and things there on Thursday and Friday and they’d a few similar events on Saturday but, that is something they are embracing and they’re enjoying it.
“But, now they’re in an Ulster Championship, you never know when you’ll get the chance to represent your club in Ulster again, if ever.
“Derry clubs have a really proud tradition in this competition and that is something that we are hoping to carry that on.”
Like almost the every round of the Derry championship, Magherafelt will go into this one as heavy underdogs with little or no expectation.
For many, they will claim that Kilcoo’s season only begins at the provincial stage.
“I was actually chatting to a lad about this the other day and he told me that home advantage is massive in the first round of Ulster.
“We are away from home; they’ve played in seven of the last eight Ulster’s, they’ve two Derry managers that will know us inside and out, the preparation for us we’ll be the same as the final, as will the build-up.
“Neutrals will look at all the variables and they’ll will write us off but, we are not afraid going up here. Looking at it and the match-up we think that it will be a close game.
“Like I said we are the Derry champions and we want to go on and represent Derry well.
“We’ve gone into almost every game as underdogs and the only game with expectation on us was the Banagher semi-final and looking back at it, we didn’t get enough credit when you see how fiercely competitive it is in the championship.”
“That point was hammered home to me when I was sitting watching Thomas Davis’ knock Kilmacud Crokes out of the Dublin championship on Saturday night.”
Quinn himself has some familiarities with Kilcoo lads through his time managing Fulham Irish in London, a club now managed by none other than Tyrone’s Owen Mulligan.
“If I needed to know what this meant Gaelic Football was all about in Kilcoo these four emphasised it.
“They were fiercely strong and put in a serious shift, real serious natural talent and damn good footballers.
“Through that friendship I have been going and watching Kilcoo in the Ulster Championship and they are a serious outfit and I’m sure they haven’t appointed men of the calibre of Mickey and Conleith to just win the Down title.
“It’s a game that we are really looking forward to, it’s like a new competition for us and we will be looking to represent Derry well.”
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