WHEN Ray Durack first rolled up to Hibernian Park in Burt in the mid-1990s, it was due to the prompting of John O’Brien.
Durack hails from Portumna in County Galway. In other words, hurling country.
Durack moved to Letterkenny from his native land and O’Brien coaxed him into lining out in the yellow and blue.
Durack won half-a-dozen Donegal Championship titles with Burt in a golden period for the club during which they won 16-in-a-row from 1991 to 2006.
Burt relinquished their title to Setanta in 2007 and lost to the Crossroads men again in 2008.
Burt were kings again in 2009, but the 2010 final didn’t feature them – the first time that happened since 19888 – as MacCumhaills overcame Setanta. The empire has struck back, though, and Burt have won each title since 2011.
Picture caption: Burt celebrate winning last year’s Championship against Sean MacCumhaills.
Durack was at the helm when Setanta took the crown in ’07 and now he’s back for another stint as manager and aiming to guide them to a fifth successive Championship success.
Sean MacCumhaills, with one John O’Brien as manager, are the opponents for Saturday’s final (O’Donnell Park, throw-in 3pm) and Durack is well aware that anything less than victory and the season will be considered a disaster.
“My first involvement with Burt was as a player in the 1990s and my enemy on Saturday, the great John O’Brien, was the man who took me to the club – there wasn’t much hurling in Letterkenny at the time,” says Durack.
“I remember going into Burt and, at the time, Andy Wallace, Darren McDermott, Ardal McDermott and Donal Campbell were the big guns. By God, you had to earn that jersey.
“That’s just the mentality in Burt. You’re never guaranteed a jersey and you just have to give it 100 per cent every time, whether that’s in training or in a match.
“There’s a great group of fellas at Burt working for hurling and we try to get two or three through every year. It’s about nurturing them and bringing them on so they can eventually step into the senior team.
“There’s an expectation in Burt. Boys here are born to hurl and are just hungry to win titles.
“We said at the start of the year that we’d go out to defend our title and we’d try and give Ulster a real shot if we managed to get over the county final.”
Durack is sweating over a number of his front-line warriors.
A cruciate ligament injury sustained playing in the Intermediate Football Championship against Milford means Enda McDermott’s season is over, while there are doubts surrounding the availability of Mickey McCann.
A hamstring injury has put McCann into the doubtful bracket and, although he did ‘light work’ on Wednesday night, his participation is not guaranteed.
Joe Boyle has been hampered by a groin injury for most of the campaign, but is expected to play through the pain barrier, and Ronan McDermott has been bed-ridden this week because of tonsillitis.
Durack says: “We have as strong panel so that’s the beauty of it. These boys can’t stay around forever so the younger players have to step up at some stage.
“We have young lads like Sean Harkin and Conor Harkin, who is back hurling again and is a great addition. Gavin McGrath is also back at it so it’s great to see these boys stepping in.
“We will prepare as well as we can and we won’t panic. We’ll play as we can on the day.”
Sean MacCumhaills won their first Donegal SHC in 2010, but were beaten by Burt in 2012 and 2014 on county final day.
“You kind of say to yourself at this time every year: ‘This has to be Burt’s last year’ but the way they keep coming back is amazing,” says MacCumhaills trainer Eamon McAuley.
“The hunger just stays with them.
“We’ve been in the finals ourselves and we haven’t won as many as we probably should have, but we’re back now for another go.
“Our senior players have been superb this year and most of them have been out at 7 o’clock on Sunday mornings.
“Managers and trainers can only be there, but it’s the players who have to put in the really hard work. What they put in, they’ll get out.
“We said at the beginning of this season that we needed to be fit, first and foremost. We’re super fit now.
“There’s been huge work with underage hurling in the club this last while. Back in the day Justin Brady and Seamus McCormick worked tirelessly and people now have come in to take on the mantle.
“Young players are coming through and they have to go from being boys to men. You get nothing easy in these games any more.”
The likes of Aaron McAuley – who is struggling with an angle injury – Jamie de Ward, Paul Doherty, Philip Doherty and Barney McMenamin have joined the senior ranks in recent times, while the return of Donegal football star Martin O’Reilly has been a massive boost for the Twin Towns side.
On a dramatic final night of action in the group phase, MacCumhaills hammered Buncrana 13-9 to 0-7 with O’Reilly helping himself to 7-1.
At the same time in Burt, a late, late Stephen Boyle equaliser denied Setanta and meant that MacCumhaills sneaked into the final.
O’Reilly had been a talented underage hurler on a Donegal minor team managed by Durack.
“I had Marty on the county panel and he’s an outstanding hurler,” Durack says.
“We won’t take them lightly. We can’t or we could be caught. I know the talent that MacCumhaills have through their team.
“That said, we’ve planned well and we’re looking forward to the game. We’re going there unbeaten and we want that to continue.”
Last year, Burt had five goals to spare against MacCumhaills in a 6-9 to 1-9 win.
For McAuley, plugging those gaps is of paramount importance.
He says: “There has been very little between the sides bar the goals. We need to stop the goals, but Burt are always a team that likes to put the goals away.
“We have plenty of scoring power in our own forward line. If we can stay close to them in the goals we won’t be far away because we know that we’re well capable of beating Burt.”
Durack has stepped down as the Donegal senior hurling manager, but believes that the game is as strong as ever.
He says: “Hopefully we can keep it competitive because this year’s Championship has been as competitive as I’ve ever seen it. It’s great to see Aodh Ruadh and Buncrana competing now too.
“Saturday’s game will be tight as well. It certainly won’t be a walk in the park. It’s about who wants it the most.”
As he meets O’Brien along the line, Durack’s mind will wander back a couple of decades.
He’s already gone from apprentice to master, but Durack doesn’t want his old mentor to get one up on him as he chases a familiar dream along the N13.Tags: