Saturday 24 March 2018

Clans desperate to finally make their 'mark' on the big stage

John Savage

After experiencing three agonising intermediate final defeats in six seasons, Clan Na Gael are hoping to finally squeeze over the finish line on Sunday.

It's been a frustrating spell in the club's illustrious history, but nobody has shirked the challenge and a chink of light appeared on the horizon last season when they joined the big boys in Division 1.

Team Captain and experienced attacker Mark McGeown experienced all of those final heartaches, but he's hoping a decent league campaign will stand to the Clans against O'Connells in Dunleer.

'I think getting up to Division 1 has really stood to us. You're up against more competitive teams every week up there and we were hoping it would stand to us and it has. There is a difference, but having said that Division 2 is very hard to get out of. It is a step up, but we've done alright this year.'

While losing finals is never easy, McGeown insists you have no choice but to brush it off and start all over.

'Everybody knows we've had a few disappointments over the last few years so hopefully we'll get over the line this time.

 'Losing [finals] is disappointing at the time, but you get over it in a few weeks and go at it again in January or February and by that stage you're looking ahead to the next challenge.

'O'Connell's beat us in 2012, I think it was. We've a lot of boys here who have lost a few finals, but they're still there and they're raring to go on Sunday. 

'O'Connells will be in the same boat because they'll want to win it and get straight back up to senior.'

Reflecting on Clans' championship campaign, McGeown feels they have improved as the campaign has progressed, culminating with an impressive semi-final comeback against Mattock Rangers.

'In the first game against the Bride's we came up a few points short, but we came back and got the win against Na Piarsaigh to get out of the group and then kicked on well from there.

'The quarter and semi-finals were two good team performances. Ray McCabe on the square made a big impact against Hunterstwon and Billy [Smith] really stood up against Mattock - no better man!

'Mattock was a big test. We were evenly matched with them too, but again we felt we could beat them. We came out on the right side by a point. In previous years we maybe lacked a bit of experience in situations like that, but we got a point ahead and defended well to see it through.'

Despite failing to get out of a nightmare group in 2016, Clans kept the show on the road to secure that precious Division 1 spot and they kept their management team together over the winter with Mark McCann backed up by experienced duo Niall O'Donnell and Val Andrews.

And Mark feels that continuity has been important too.

'We started training a couple of weeks before Christmas and we set our stall out early to give this a good go this year. 

'The lads have done everything they can to help us and hopefully we can get it over the line this time.'

Operating in different divisions, Clans and O'Connells haven't met this term, but McGeown is expecting a close contest.

'We haven't played O'Connells in a competitive game  this year, but we know it's going to be a tough task. 

'They'll be just as up for it as we are, but if we're tuned in and take the game to them we have every chance. We're looking forward to it.'

The Argus