Lennons hope to steer Stars to first title since 2015
SFC final preview
Owen and Brendan Lennon are well accustomed to competing in the thick of high-end championship action in Monaghan and, this Sunday, will lead Kingscourt Stars into a first county final in three years and seek a first win in eight.
Interestingly given the generally gloomy mood music around the subject among the football fraternity, the Latton clubmen have been impressed by the standard of football they have witnessed in Cavan in the last two seasons.
“I’m teaching in the Comprehensive in Cootehill so I would have had a bit of an idea about Cavan football but the one thing that did strike me when we started with Kingscourt was the quality of football in Cavan,” Owen told the Anglo-Celt last week.
“Slightly differently to Monaghan over the last couple of years, there are a lot of top teams in Cavan, six or seven clubs would have aspirations about winning championships, that stood out straight away. If you look at the semi-finals, maybe not our match as much but definitely Gowna and Crosserlough, you’ll not see a better match in the country, the way the two teams went at it and just played pure football.”
The towering former Farney midfielder is thoroughly enjoying his involvement with the Kingscourt club.
“Kingscourt are a top club, great club to work with, great guys to work with, very happy working with them this year and last year.
“The biggest thing that stood out is that they just love their football and there’s no messing or anything like that, just get down to business straight away. To be honest, last year didn’t go as well as we’d have hoped, we had different injuries and boys missing their pre-season so it was a tough introduction if we’re being brutally honest.
“But this year the boys have got into good shape from early on, we got a few injuries cleared up. We’re very happy with the Kingscourt club, they have a great tradition in Cavan and that hasn’t changed at all.”
There rumours in the last couple of off-seasons – winter talk, they call it in Kerry - that Barry Reilly and Joe Dillon might have been considering hanging up their boots but both committed and with Jordan Morris now in his second season, suddenly there was a formidable look to the Stars’ attack.
“Obviously a massive boost. Joe Dillon got that wee bounce from the quarter-final last year against Killygarry, he put on a massive performance that day, especially in the first half. Being from Monaghan, we would have heard a lot about Joe Dillon but we didn’t see the fruits of it till that game last year so we were delighted to have him back this year,” Owen said.
“He’s over in Liverpool at the minute and he’s travelling over and back so it’s not easy for the lad but Joe’s a top player, good experience, good level-headed guy and I hope he produces one of his top performances for the final.”
For ‘Benny’ Lennon, the opportunity to get through a strong block of work before a ball was kicked this year made a big difference. The Stars looked to the league to build momentum and that has taken them this far.
“Last year we came in and we didn’t have a lot of men who got pre-seasons behind them and we probably didn’t get back early enough to get the boys into the best shape they could get into and we struggled a bit. We actually defeated Gowna in the last group match, scraped through, and then we played Killygarry and we saw what the real Kingscourt was capable of,” Benny said.
“We played super stuff but leaked too much at the back and got caught at the end. We regrouped this year and we said we’d try and fix a few wee things, not to leak as much, we went back a wee bit earlier and got the hard work done and got a couple of boys back who did pre-seasons for the first time in a long time. We built a bit of momentum, it’s game by game and we keep just battling away till the end.
“We finished strongly in the semi-final but we have a lot of improving to do.
“We sat down at the start and said that league form is very important, we had a poor league last year and we just stayed up by the skin of our teeth. We said that we were going to go hard at the league this year and try and build a bit of momentum and get the confidence levels up.
“As the league went on, we kept winning and winning and we ended up in the semi-final and in the couple of weeks before the championship, we didn’t need to look for challenge matches. We had the draw and replay in the semi-final against Ramor and then we played Crosserlough and they defeated us heavily enough in the end but they were competitive matches that really stood to us coming into the group games in the championship.”
Does he feel that his side are peaking at the right time?
“Hopefully. We have been playing in patches throughout the games. We played Cavan Gaels in the first game and we snatched the game at the end with a late goal. We didn’t play overly well but we showed battling qualities again.
“In the second game we played Ballinagh and got off to a great start and finished poorly. We played Lacken and then Killygarry in our last game and again played in patches.
“It’s been a patchy campaign but the only thing is, the boys are showing a bit of grit and they’re digging deep when they have to. But again, we’ll need to improve going in to play Gowna.
“Crosserlough were red hot favourites with everyone and fairly so, they went undefeated in the league, but Gowna is Gowna, they are county champions and they weren’t going to give up their title too handy, they dug deep, went five down at the start and kept chipping away and they punished Crosserlough’s little mistakes in the end and got across the line easily.”
The pair are joined in the management team by Pat Faulkner (“A great Cavan stalwart who has brought a lot to the set-up and knows the other teams inside out”) and will hope to keep their players grounded ahead of the biggest match of the season.
“It’s easy to say it’s just another game but there are a lot of distractions, flags, interviews, media stuff," said Ulster SFC medallist Owen.
“You have to try to keep the lads level-headed, to focus on the match and concentrate on their job. From our end, the biggest thing that we want is for Kingscourt to perform and then hopefully you can stay in the match and hopefully win but you want to just keep them focused on their job.
“It’s easy saying it, we’ve been players and we’ve been caught up in that stuff before too. That’s myself and Benny’s job, just to keep them focused. But saying that, we are working with a good level of group of lads, they’ve stayed in a fairly straight line and done everything we’ve asked this year and last year as well.”