'The latter end is when you want to be peaking' - McGahern

SFC final preview

Paul Fitzpatrick

When the Anglo-Celt caught up with Ryan McGahern 10 days out from the county final, he was in Ratoath, en route from Cork, where he had been working (as a construction foreman).

Traversing the country for training is a big commitment but McGahern doesn’t mind.

“It is a bit but I’m used to coming up and down from Dublin so the extra bit on the journey doesn’t really bother me that much and when you have several other lads doing it, you can’t really complain yourself.

“I have to admire one of our stalwarts Raymond Keogh, I’ll not say what age he is but he’s getting on. He’s up and down the road every day to Dublin and living in Ballyjamesduff and still commuting to Gowna all year round so when you’ve lads like that doing it a long time, you can’t really complain.”

Had things worked out differently, McGahern could be looking forward to possibly collecting the Oliver Plunkett Cup for a third year in succession this Sunday. Gowna should have won the drawn final against Ramor in 2021 before being blitzed early in the replay. That was bitterly disappointing at the time but two years on, McGahern accepts that it may not have been the worst thing to happen to a young Gowna side.

“You’re not going to admit to say that defeat stood to us but we took a lot of learnings from that. That year Castlerahan beat us in the league and after that, we had won every game until the second day out in the county final. We were after steam-rolling everyone and probably thought we couldn’t be beat. Maybe sometimes it can be no harm getting a couple of home truths and getting brought down to your own level.

“Look, it would be lovely to be going for three in a row… But maybe us knowing last year going into the county final what it was like to lose one, it might have stood to us.”

For the last two campaigns, Gowna have idled along, have been held to a draw in the quarter-final and found their form thereafter.

“We definitely don’t do that on purpose, I can guarantee you that! You’d be getting a lot of stick maybe from supporters, outside noise, they’d be giving out about the way you’re playing and some lads aren’t fit and one thing or another and maybe you’re holding back lads that are injured. I suppose coming into the latter end of the championship is when you want to be peaking, there’s no point peaking too early and getting carried away with yourself.

“Maybe that’s what happened with us the first year, we won the league and then we were steam-rolling teams and maybe we did get carried away with ourselves. That’s the last thing you want to do, you’d like to be coming in under the radar if you like to say that. That wasn’t planned last year, we went up to Killinkere to beat Kingscourt and Kingscourt came out and beat us fair and square and we kind of thought our championship was over really.

“Once you got a second chance at it, you took it. The first game this year against Killygarry, if that game had gone on for another couple of minutes, we could have got beat again because they were on top near the end. I suppose we came to realise back Tuesday night that if it had gone on another five minutes, we’d have been out of the championship.

“When you get a kick up the backside like that, you don’t be long realising that you need to cop yourself on and take chances or maybe tighten up on lads or whatever it may be.”

Gowna were superb in the semi-final against Crosserlough. There was a lot of hype around that rivalry but, he says, in the camp, it wasn’t something they focused on.

“I don’t think we, as in players, really got caught up in it, it’s kind of nearly everybody else who talks about it but we weren’t really talking about it. Crosserlough was the best team so far in Cavan and that’s the teams you want to be playing so we were happy to get them in the draw but the players never really talked much about Crosserlough.

“And then you only had a week. It nearly worked out well for us, if we had two weeks to think about it and talk about it, you might have got caught up with it but you were thinking about Killygarry and then next thing Tuesday night you had Crosserlough so you hadn’t an awful lot of time to think about it.”

Gowna went five points down in the first six minutes but they didn’t tear up their plans.

“You kind of were prepared for it. Crosserlough will do that, they’ll come out of the traps flying whereas we might be a bit slower to start. You were expecting Crosserlough to come thundering at you, which they did.

Ryan McGahern. Photo: Adrian Donohoe. Photo by Adrian Donohoe Photography 0863716199

“We didn’t really panic, we knew it might happen. We did train that way, ‘whatever happens here in the first five, 10 minutes, don’t worry about it, don’t panic and try and stay in the game’. At half-time, luckily enough, you were only a point down so you were still in the game.”

Unusually, both finalists have joint-managers. Asked about how the dynamic works between Dermot McCabe and Fintan Reilly, McGahern joked that he’d have to choose his words carefully.

Last time he was interviewed on these pages, he used the phrase ‘good cop, bad cop’, you point out.

“Now it’s two bad cops!” he laughed.

“Both of them have lots of experience and… I don’t know what you want me to say here, I could get in trouble tomorrow night when I go to training!

“It’s probably split down the middle, both of them have their strengths. Lads can sometimes get fed up listening to the one fella all the time, you have two different voices talking to you. I may dodge that question, I mightn’t be playing in this final if I say too much wrong.”

On a serious note, Ryan was taken aback by the reception the team got at their homecoming last year.

“I had never experienced anything like that before and I’d say 90pc of the team hadn’t experienced anything like that before. We went back to the village, it was an outrageous bad night and still there were people standing outside and we went up to the hall and the hall was packed.

“As I say, it was nothing we had experienced before and nothing we had envisioned. You kind of thought there’d be a crowd around but nothing to the extent that there was.

“Ah, sure it was great. There were so many parents there and they’re all putting in such a big shift n the club at underage and so on. You’re more happy for them than you are for yourself. At least it’s some way of giving back to them.

“I couldn’t believe even people from other clubs coming. We were in the pub on the Monday and ones from other clubs came in. That was something I didn’t think happened but it was only when you were talking to the older crew that I found out this was the norm, that surrounding clubs would come and celebrate with you, which is a nice touch too.”

Gowna, senior since the mid-1980s with nine titles to their name, punch well above their weight. What’s the secret?

“Sometimes with these bigger towns and bigger populations, you have a lot more distractions. And also, when one fella drops off, it’s a domino effect and a lot of other fellas drop off. Whereas we are a small village, tight knit, there’s no real distractions. If every lad at 17, 18 is playing football, you don’t want to be the one maybe that’s dropping off.

“That’s maybe what stands to us, I don’t know, I’m just really kind of guessing. When everybody is at it, you stick at it.

“Lads are lucky to have work around the area or in as far as Cavan, a couple of fellas maybe commuting. I think that has a lot to do with it and then when your parents are into it, you’re going to buy into it as well. The parents is a massive thing, I think anyway.”

As for Sunday’s opponents, McGahern has the height of respect for them.

“Kingscourt have always been there or thereabouts and you have to admire them. There has always been a great relationship between Gowna and Kingscourt. Even when you were younger, if you went up to a league game or whatever in Kingscourt, you’d always stop off after the game and there was always great craic with them.

“Kingscourt is as honest as the day is long. They’re going to throw the kitchen sink at you. That team alone, they have a great mix. They have tigerish defenders, big strong men around the middle and then they have the bit of power and speed up front. You have to hand it to them, you talk about Gowna, Jesus, we went missing for a long time whereas Kingscourt is always knocking on the door.

“We’d have a great admiration for Kingscourt.”