Youth fuelling Emmet Og's bid to make history
TOMMY McCormack jokes that he has "aged dramatically" since taking over as Emmet Og senior manager this year and bringing them to the brink of football history next Sunday.
It is nine years since the last Longford club (Clonguish) got to a Leinster SFC semi-final, and no club from the county has ever reached the provincial decider.
Killoe's little rural club – about 15km north of Longford town – now take on the townie giants of Portlaoise and have certainly taken a historic and heart-stopping route.
"We are county champions for the first time in 17 years and played nine-and-a-half hours of football to win it," McCormack (pictured below) says.
"Our semi-final (against Dromard) went to a replay and then the final (against two-in-a-row defending champions Slashers) went to a replay and extra-time.
"We had a few close calls all right and, since then, we got two big results in Leinster with only a week's turnaround. I had a few grey hairs to start but I've a lot more now."
During that 17-year wait, Emmet Og suffered a whole heap of heartbreak, not least four one-point semi-final defeats, one of which was a replay.
Down through the years the McCormacks have been deeply woven into the club tapestry.
Tommy and his brothers, Jimmy and Terry, were among their star players when Young Emmets, captained by Declan Rowley, won the county title back in 1988.
When they last won it in 1993 and 1995, Tommy was at the helm.
And when he returned to manage them this year (with Terry a selector) he took over a side that now stars his nephews, Sean and Padraig, and is captained by his son, Joe.
Locals reckon Tommy has the midas touch, but he puts their long-awaited return to other factors.
"We've got a good crew of young lads at present and there's a terrific work ethic," he stresses.
The club also won the county minor title this year and, as defending champions, had two wins in the past week to return to the county U-21 final.
Killoe also had a handful of players on the Longford minor team who made a Leinster breakthrough in 2009, and everybody acknowledges the work done by principal Colm Harte in the local primary school, which McCormack describes as "our own little football kindergarten".
Last year's U-21 title was their first since 1979, and six of that team now start for their seniors.
Chief among their young talent is Michael Quinn, the county senior star whose return after three years in the AFL was a massive boost.
"When Mickey left for Australia he was only 18 with very little experience, but he came back hugely developed," McCormack says.
"He adapted to play centre-back and we pushed him up, but now he's at wing-back because, with a club team, you're looking to improve and get the balance right and that's where he does a big job for us."
More unusual, perhaps, is where he sites his nephew Padraig, the teen prodigy called up by Glenn Ryan to join his sharp-shooting brother Sean on the county senior team this year.
Largely seen as an attacker and centre-forward for their U-21s last year, Padraig has since moved to centre-back and now fills their seniors' No 3 jersey.
"If we had two Padraigs we'd have him at the other end of the field too but, again, it's about that balance and he does a great job for us at full-back," adds the manager.
After beating Wexford's St Anne's and trouncing Navan O'Mahonys, Emmet Og could now make Leinster football history, but face a seasoned outfit in the six-in-a-row Laois champions who have a dozen players who have played senior inter-county.
"Portlaoise are a really experienced outfit and it's even harder to go down to play them on their own patch," McCormack acknowledges. "But we believe we can play football and take it to them.
"Over the years in Leinster it's been shown that there's very little really between club teams at this level so, if we're with them close to the end, we'll have great belief that we can beat them and pull off another surprise."