Manchester's Fullen Gaels relishing Croker date with destiny
A grand total of 38 members make up Fullen Gaels – and only 24 of those are playing members of the Manchester-based club.
The story of the loaves and the fishes comes to mind as they prepare for a Croke Park date against Kilkenny's Thomastown tomorrow in their All-Ireland club JHC final clash.
They are no flash in the pan. Fullen have reached an All-Ireland quarter-final and semi-final in the last two years, but on both occasions have come up short. Meelin beat them two years ago (and won the All-Ireland), while Charleville hammered them last year.
"I think we left it in the bus that day, to a degree," recalls captain and Manchester-based physio Conall Maskey of last year's exit.
"Beating sticks off changing room doors; we lost the heads a bit. The occasion got to us, so, hopefully, we can keep a cool head this time. But it's a big ask when boys are walking out onto Croke Park."
There was some solace in that progress was being made and it was enough to keep them travelling the 100 miles to compete in the Warwickshire championship.
"Doing that every couple of weeks is tough going. We won that and then beat the London intermediate champions in the British final."
Maskey played minor with Antrim in 2005 alongside Neil McManus. But tomorrow he'll lead out James O'Farrell, whose father hails from Thomastown.
After playing underage with Carrickshock in Kilkenny, O'Farrell initially pursued a career as a jockey, where he did quite well in Scandanavia before a succession of injuries – including a broken neck – forced him away from racing.
He'll line up against his former schoolmate from the famed St Kieran's nursery and Thomastown captain, Jonjo Farrell.
The odds are very much stacked against the Exiles, but Farrell won't take the Manchester side for granted.
"People are expecting the one result, but it's a two-horse race so you don't know," warned Farrell. "The manager will look into it a bit but we'll just get our own house in order.
"There are no bad hurlers there, so it will be a huge battle."