WHEN MAXI CURRAN was handed the manager’s job at St Eunan’s in January 2014, there came with the role a weight of expectation.
St Eunan’s have been in 12 of the last 18 county finals. Including the final of 1997, when they were subsequently stripped of their title in the boardroom, St Eunan’s have won eight of those finals.
St Eunan’s have won Dr Maguire in five of the last eight years.
For nigh on two decades, a cast of characters has remained constant.
John Haran has played in 11 of those finals from 97 on, having missed out through suspension in the 2002 final, which wasn’t played until Easter 2003. Rory Kavanagh, Conall Dunne and Kevin Rafferty have featured in 10.
With those men still in the frontline of combat, it has made Curran – the first man from outside the club membership to manage the team – draw a conclusion that, at first, sounds surprising.
Picture caption: St Eunan’s celebrate their winning of the 2014 Donegal SFC.
“Managing St Eunan’s is the easiest job in Donegal,” says the Downings native.
“Obviously they’re a big club in terms of population, but look at the underage structure: It keeps churning out players who keep rejuvenating the older boys.
“With St Eunan’s, it’s a given that the target every year is to go and win the Championship – you’d be hung, drawn and quartered here if you didn’t have that ambition.
“Some years, the thing will go for you and others it won’t, but the club keeps re-energising and the fascinating thing is how these players keep doing that.”
Dr Maguire goes on the line again on Saturday evening in Ballybofey when St Eunan’s face St Michael’s in the first of the weekend’s semi-finals.
It’s a repeat of the semis of 2006 and 2014 that were both won by the Cathedral town outfit.
While St Michael’s bring to the table certain and considerable experience, the know-how that St Eunan’s have when it comes to these nights and these games is unrivalled.
Rafferty was Man of the Match in the quarter-final when St Eunan’s put Glenswilly to the sword in a game that showed the black and amber at their cold and clinical best.
Kavanagh was sent off for a second yellow card, but was effective up until his dismissal on his first appearance following a summer in Boston; Dunne netted a goal in the second half; and Haran turned the clock back for a vintage display.
“It is invaluable what those boys bring,” Curran says.
“It is amazing, their nous for when the Championship is cranking up the levels.
“If I got a call at 5 o’clock on Saturday that meant I couldn’t go to the game, these boys could run the thing, such is their level of experience, but not only that, the respect they have from within the group.
“You have Rory Kavanagh – when he speaks, people listen. Then, John Haran is such a historical fixture in the club and his ability to do it, time and time again, is just amazing.
“Add in ‘Raff’ and Conall, what these boys have done just underlines their character, their love of the club and their unyielding ambition – they just live for it.
“There’ll never be a group like that one in terms of longevity and commitment, never mind their overall success.
“Those boys were a huge part of it as young fellas and now they’re even more important members as the elder statesmen of the group.”
Darragh Mulgrew will miss out on a place this weekend owing to the hamstring injury that forced him out of action in the first 10 minutes of the quarter-final, but otherwise St Eunan’s are at full tilt.
St Eunan’s watched from afar in 2013 as Glenswilly defeated Killybegs in the county final, their own summer having been flipped upside-down by Malin in a quarter-final at The Scarvey.
Last year, Kavanagh led them back up the steps at Sean MacCumhaill Park as they wrestled Donegal football’s top prize back from Glenswilly.
“Last year, certain individuals, say like Conor Morrison and Caolan Ward, were on the pitch at the end of a county final for the first time,” Curran says.
“That’s an awful lot of experience to get as a young fella. Not only are they getting that experience and belief, but the older lads now have trust in the young lads.
“The addition of Peter Devine (who was in Dubai this time last year) has been massive – he’s one of the few players around who plays the game with a natural edge.
“Another big factor is Lee McMonagle, who is back with us this year and is chipping in with scores. He’s been a big plus – he’s an out-and-out finisher.”
St Eunan’s had appeared vulnerable when Naomh Conaill defeated them 2-12 to 0-8 in the group stage at O’Donnell Park but, after getting back on track with a 0-14 to 1-6 win over Dungloe, they issued the most timely of reminders of their capabilities with a 3-7 to 0-8 quarter-final win against Glenswilly.
“The performance against Glenswilly came from being in five of the last eight finals and having the know-how for when to push the button,” Curran says.
“We knew, deep down, against Naomh Conaill that it wasn’t the end of the road.”
It was a different story when the bingo balls of St Eunan’s and Glenswilly came out, side-by-side, for the quarter-finals.
“The opposition definitely had a big effect on us too,” Curran says. “ St Eunan’s don’t want to get knocked out of the Championship by Glenswilly.
“The Dungloe game was a no-win situation. If the game was tight: ‘St Eunan’s were poor’ and if we blew them away: ‘Dungloe were poor’.
“We outscored them 14 scores to seven and I’ve never seen a match where a goal kept a team within touching distance for so long.
“People said that we were unflattering and were lacking comprehension, but we played as well as could be expected. The bottom line is that we’re not as bad as was said after the Naomh Conaill game, but probably not as good as has been said after the Glenswilly game.”
When a flick of Ross Wherity’s hand sneaked St Eunan’s over the line against St Michael’s in the semi-final in 2006, Curran was watching from the press box at Sean MacCumhaill Park.
He was part of Declan Bonner’s backroom team in Gaoth Dobhair that summer and they won the final as Stephen Cassidy’s goal steered them to a win in a damp and drab final.
Now, Curran and Bonner are on opposing sides this weekend with Bonner having been recruited by St Michael’s.
“They’re the form team this summer,” Curran says of St Michael’s.
“They may be committing more players forward, but the same players, by and large, are still there on both teams. We shipped two bad goals in the semi-final last year so we can’t afford to give that head start again.”Tags: