Mullahoran find themselves in an unusual position this Sunday, not in going into a county final – this will be their seventh of those in the last 20 years – but in the fact that the decider is in the intermediate grade.
Four decades have passed since the club last contested this particular final – when they beat Castlerahan by 2-9 to 1-6, with Gerry Cadden and Jim Brennan bagging the goals – and they proudly maintained their senior status throughout the 1980s, ’90s and 2000s.
Last year, that run came to an end. The Dreadnoughts were winless all season and eventually slipped through the trapdoor. And, says captain Killian Brady, that hurt like hell, especially given that his first experience of the big day was a winning one just five years earlier.
“I was lucky enough to grow up watching Mullahoran teams playing in finals and winning finals and it's something special being captain of such a historic club, it's always something you'd like to do,” stated Brady, a member of the 'Gunner' clan, this week.
“It will be a proud moment walking out on the field leading a bunch of fellas who have worked hard all year.”
Brady is quick to mention the club's heritage and the onus that is on the players to prize the jersey. It's something that is referenced from time to time, he says, particularly in 2017 when they were battling to avoid the drop. Not staying up stung, he admits.
“It was probably mentioned moreso last year when we were going through a rough period. There was a lot at stake, when you've played senior football for 40-odd years, to get a kick like that and go down was tough and it went hard on the players over the winter.
“We were responsible for relegating the club and that's why it's so important for us to get an opportunity next Sunday to be the same group of players who brought us straight back up.
“It's definitely something we do use to motivate ourselves. There are a lot of very proud Mullahoran people in the club and in fairness, even when we got relegated last year, they stuck with us and we're back in the final now.”
Times move on, though, and the Class of 2018 are attempting to carve out their own identity.
“When you have such a proud history of winning finals, a lot of them were won back when football was played differently and we were always known for being a teak tough team, strong defensively.
“Even in 2012, we probably weren't scoring that much but we were keeping the scores down at the other end.
“It's something we probably struggled with in the early part of the championship, conceding goals... but we have sorted those couple of defensive issues and made progress. We have a young team and we probably have a lot more ball-players in this group at the minute than we maybe had in the last 10, 12 years.
“It was about finding a game plan that suited those lads.”
Having coasted through the league, the Dreadnoughts hit a sticky patch in the championship, needing an injury time penalty save to hold off Killeshandra and losing by a point to Bailieborough.
Since then, though, they have improved and found their groove again.
“We were struggling in tight games, maybe there were a few scars left from last year when we couldn't seem to figure out how to win a game,” reckons Brady.
“This year, we got a great start in the league but there was always going to come a stage where our form was going to dip. We kind of struggled with that but picking it back up and sorting out those issues was the main thing.
“We are going in the right direction anyway we feel.”
Mullahoran's last appearance on county final day was in 2012, when they saw off Kingscourt in a replayed senior final. Brady had turned 21 that summer and was one of the young guns on the side. This time around, the roles have been reserved.
“It does feel a small bit different in that you kind of know what to expect but there's a bit of added pressure I suppose because you have to pass that experience on to the younger fellas who haven't even actually played at senior level yet.
“But they had lots of underage success and hopefully that can help the lads.
“We do have a mixed age group there, Paul [Brady] is 39 right back down to Gavin [Brady] and Cormac [O'Reilly] who are only 17, going on 18. It's a big span of ages but we have gelled this year an awful lot.”
While the teamsheet has been transformed since that 2012 win, the changes have not been as drastic as one would think, especially given that Mullahoran were regarded as an experienced team even then.
Ten of the 18 who saw game time against the Stars in that replay win have played some part in the current championship but young players are never long coming of age, either.
That same week, Gowna and Crosserlough played an U14 Division 1 final; 13 of those who played featured in their senior semi-final last Saturday.
As for Mullahoran, they also won an U14 Division 2 crown that week and four of those players – Callum Mussi, Colm O'Reilly, Liam Wilson, Darren Sheils and Cormac O'Reilly – have featured this year, with Sean Cadden playing in the league before picking up an unfortunate injury.
That’s quite a return from one side and another contant is Seanie Smith, who has swapped the number two jersey for the bib marked Bainisteoir.
“I had good and bad days with Seanie. He knows as a player exactly what it is to win big games and lose big games. It's great to have that experience along the line.
“He's really got stuck in this year and the sort of commitment and dedication he has shown preparing the team is the same as how he prepared himself as a player. He's a Mullahoran man through and through and he's really bringing that through in his management style, ably assisted by the two Damiens [Donohoe and O'Reilly].
“They are a good solid unit together, they work very well together and that's been a large part of the process this year.”
For Brady himself, 2018 has been a slowburner of a season which he hopes will ignite next Sunday. After a long spell out of action with injury, he recovered sufficiently to win back a starting place for the county team and has been in fine form of late for his club.
“It was the 1st of December last I had surgery. I played my first game against Drumalee in the second or third league game back in April. It was a long, frustrating winter, it's not nice running up and down the sideline when the lads are playing away but maybe in a way it has left me a little bit fresher compared to other years.
“I know myself, it has happened me the other way around, you play the majority of the league and come championship time you kind of get pushed out of the team.”
What's the key to dealing with the setbacks football throws at you? There's no magic formula, he says.
“It's experience, I'm 27 now, the experience does aid you as the time goes on. I'm five or six years playing with Cavan, it's down to experience at the end of the day and passing that on.”
As for Sunday's opponents, Brady expects a stern test and a very close match.
“I actually don't go to many games!” he smiles.
“I have seen them on video and I played with Eugene [Keating] and Bryan [Magee] over the past few years so I know how good they are. They have some real dangers in the forward line so I think the biggest battle is probably going to be around the middle.
“Both teams play a fairly similar system, it will probably be about who plays it better. Both teams will probably fancy themselves up in the forward division and it's about who pulls off the game plan better.
“We had [Cuchulainns manager] Niall [Lynch] with us in 2012 so they will have that inside knowledge and will try to use that to their advantage. I can't see it not being tight anyway.”