ON AUGUST 3 2012, Ryan Lonergan took his place on the bench for Finn Harps in their First Division game against SD Galway.
It was ten days before his 18th birthday and Lonergan was called up by then manager Peter Hutton.
He was an unsued substitute as Harps won 2-0, courtesy of two Kevin McHugh goals.
Lonergan had a few more outings on the Harps bench over the following year, but never got around to a first team appearance. He was well thought of at Harps and was named captain of the Under-19 team around the same time.[adrotate group=”63″]
What he now calls a ‘mysterious’ leg injury curtailed his development and last January he returned to his native Letterkenny Rovers.
This evening, Lonergan will walk out at Aviva Staidum with Rovers for the FAI Intermediate Cup final against Crumlin United.
“I’m so excited,” midfielder-turned-right-back Lonergan says.
“I’m enjoying it. I’m the fittest I’ve ever been. We’ve had so many high-class games. The last month has been so high octane. That last month was fantastic. It’s a great level of football.”[adrotate group=”64″]
Lonergan had a frustrating time of it at Harps with the injury dashing whatever hopes he had of a breakthrough to the senior team.
He says: “I was carrying the injury for around a year-and-a-half. I didn’t play for a year and I came down here to Leckview last January.
“The injury was just unfortunate timing. I was playing well up to that. There was bad timing too because it happened just when Peter Hutton was leaving and Ollie was coming in.
“The injury was a mystery, but I eventually got sorted. The muscles just weren’t doing what they should be. It was simple enough at the end up.
“Last year, Eamon (McConigley, manager) had only taken over again and he asked me to see how it would go. Rovers is my home club so I was only ever going to come here.”
There don’t appear many regrets. Lonergan watched BJ Banda write himself into Harps folklore in November with the play-off winner against Limerick FC. Lonergan does wonder what might have been, but he’s not the type to dwell.
Lonergan is one of the real unsung heros in a dressing room that is drowned with experience.
The Letterkenny native has seen McConigley work his magic in their run to the final. McConigley gathered his players at the start of the year and told them to aim for the Aviva. Few heeded his words, some sniggered, but they’re not laughing now.[adrotate group=”37″]
“Eamon has been talking about it all season,” Lonergan says.
“It wasn’t until the turn of the year that we started to believe him. He’s been talking about going for the Intermediate Cup for months, though. I’d never played past the first round before so I didn’t really think about.
“After we beat Dunboyne, we kind of went: ‘Jeez, maybe we could do well here.’
“Eamon always believed that we could do it. He says himself that he’s a dreamer, but it’s not all dreaming – we’re one game from winning it now.
“Eamon has a great head for these games. He always tells us not to focus on side shows. It’s all about the game.
“It’s just pure experience. It’s invaluable. He has walked the walk at this level.”[adrotate group=”38″]
In the opening round, Rovers overcame Ulster Senior League kingpins Cockhill Celtic and the Cathedral town men have had to show their mettle more then once, but particularly when they came from conceding a late equaliser in a semi against Ringmahon to defeating them 2-0 in a replay.
Lonergan says: “We have come over some big tests. To concede in Cork in the 94th minute was a sickener. We were dejected to let in that goal.
“We got in after that one and we were so disappointed. ‘Rita’ (Shane Bradley) and Eamon stood up after it and said there was no reason to be disappointed. They were telling us: ‘We came here not to get beat’.
“Once we got over the initial impact of conceding we were in good spirits. We knew that we had a good chance of turning them over at Leckview.”
Last week, Lonergan watched on television as Leicester City lifted the Premier League and his might thought forward a week. Aviva Stadium is a larger arena that The King Power Stadium.[adrotate group=”42″]
It’s now that the meaning of it become real.
“I didn’t realise what this was until we got to the semi-final,” Lonergan says.
“People started to say things like it was only the second time the club was in a semi-final. I found that hard to believe because this is such a big club.
“Once we won the semi-final, that’s when it really hit home. It’s been bizarre, but it’s fantastic. It would mean everything to win this.”Tags: