McDermott eyes one final shock
KILMURRY-IBRICKANE'S respect has been hard earned. Their run to today's All-Ireland club final has surprised everyone -- including themselves. Pundits and bookmakers alike expected the plucky side from West Clare to hit deep water before now, long before today's decider against Antrim's St Gall's.
A famous win over Portlaoise in the semi-final coincided with a coup over the local bookmaker as their supporters took advantage of the generous odds on offere.
The dismissal of Portlaoise's Brian Mulligan after just 20 seconds shaped their semi-final win over the O'Moore champions. Kilmurry-Ibrickane went about their job professionally, eventually winning by nine points but it leaves the rest of us wondering just how good Micheal McDermott's side really are.
The Cavan native is the first to admit they have rode their luck a little in this campaign. In each game they have played since winning the Clare title, they have enjoyed a numerical superiority at some stage while big calls have gone their way too.
"To get to an All-Ireland final for a small club from county Clare is probably a surprise for everyone," McDermott admitted.
"Things have gone our way, fate has played its hand. Turn the clock back to the Munster final. Kerins O'Rahillys had a goal disallowed at the end and rightly so, but over the last few weeks we have seen the same sort of scenario on four or five occasions and the goal has stood.
"We got the luck of the right call going in our favour and that made us Munster champions. Against (London champions) Tir Chonaill Gaels there was a goal disallowed too. We've had a measure of luck in each game since we come out of the county."
McDermott is nothing if not thorough and, as manager of the Clare junior side for much of the last decade, he's had his fair share of disappointing days. Kilmurry have watched the video of their semi-final win and saw a pointed difference between their warm-up and that of the Leinster champions, who had waltzed through the province without having a glove laid on them.
"It's a funny sort of game. We felt that we were really well prepared going into it. The quarter-final against Tir Chonaill Gaels was going to be a huge factor in our performance and the long lay-off for Portlaoise probably caught them cold going into it. Then having the man sent off upset Portlaoise's rhythm and took their focus away. But it's very hard to judge our performance. It was good but it was against 14 men."
But even the most generous twist of fate can only bring you so far. Kilmurry haven't conceded a goal in five outings while Clare, who McDermott is also in charge of, only conceded their first goal of the league campaign last Sunday, but still beat London comfortably.
Working with both teams has taken its toll. During our interview, McDermott's voice is creaking like he has swallowed a bucket of gravel. Fatigue is a factor but he has been taking Monday nights off for a good night's sleep. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays are dedicated to the county where he is assisted by former Mayo footballer Liam McHale.
Wednesday and Friday are for the club while on Sundays he works with both. His workload will be cut in half after today but there will be little time to survey what has been achieved.
After the final, thoughts will turn to Clare and how many Kilmurry-Ibrickane players will be asked onto the panel that has given the county its best start to a league campaign in recent memory. The National Irish Bank employee will also have to decide if he could consider another season with the club.
"It's been tough but when you're winning it gives you the spark to keep going. It's a dream for me to be planning for an All-Ireland final. I'd say any manager in the country would give his right arm to be where I am right now. If we're All-Ireland champions come the evening of St Patrick's Day, every sinew that we've used and every mile I've travelled will be well, well worth it."
A challenge match against the Cavan U-21 side, in which the fringe players were given a chance to prove themselves has been the height of their exertions in recent weeks. Other than that, the main goal has been keeping players fit and healthy.
"They are a very level-headed bunch but they have big ambitions. I don't think they'll fear Croke Park or who they play.
"They'll play their normal game and hope it brings success but if it doesn't, well, it has been a great journey. You just hope they give what they are capable of and if they do that they won't be too far off the mark.
"Everyone starts the year with an ambition and when you get there, you keep setting the bar higher. Last year, we were in a Munster final and we thought we left it behind us. So we set our stall out at the start of the year to get back to that final. We got there and we got greedy and said 'We're there, we may never be there again, let's try win this.'
"And every game we've played we've gone in with the same kind of attitude -- that this may never happen again so let's give it our best shot. So when you have that attitude, you don't really fear the game or the occasion. You just give everything and see where it brings you. In a strange way it removes the pressure.
"I expect the final will be no different. We'll be underdogs, St Gall's have been there (Croke Park) before from both 2006 and this year's intermediate hurling team which has a big crossover with the football team.
"People will probably write off Kilmurry-Ibrickane because of the occasion and it being their first time in Croke Park. But the players will give 100pc and if that brings victory, fantastic, but we can't ask anything more than that. If we get everything from them, we'll be happy."