Thursday 22 February 2018

Fast turnaround isn't an issue for Blues boss

John Savage

PICKING up the pieces after a Championship final defeat is never an easy task, but when your new squad is torpedoed by an emigration crisis, a return to the annual showpiece must seem a long way off.

The manner of Newtown Blues' defeat two years ago to St Patrick's would also have left some heavy scars, as they were easily the better team in the first (drawn) game, but paid an expensive price for not finishing the job.

Current boss Pat McDonagh was in the Gaelic Grounds that day, and Dowdallshill for the replay, but little did he know just how badly the squad that took to the field would be ravaged over the ensuing months.

It certainly explains Blues' failure to mount a serious challenge last summer, but as the wanderers have trickled back, so too has Blues' mojo.

McDonagh, a self-made millionaire, knows a thing or two about fighting adversity, and that's exactly what the past two seasons have been about. Now, though, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

'We lost a lot of momentum last year because we just didn't have the players,' he says, after watching his team finally pull through a gruelling 120-minute-plus battle with champions St Pat's.

'We won the Sheelan Cup, but we didn't do that well in the League and it was hard to get it moving. We improved as the year went on, but by the time the semi-final came along we just weren't strong enough to make that final step, and we were only beaten by a point in the end.

'This year we have had the luxury of a full squad. We lost Paul Moore and Aidan O'Brien last week, but other than that we have a full squad and we're really up for it.'

It has been a long, tough road to the decider and McDonagh knows Cooley represents another huge challenge.

'It has been a tough route for us because we've had to beat

last year's finalists Dreadnots, Mattock and now the champions.'

However, far from bemoaning an eight-day turnaround, the Dublin native sees the semi-final tussle with Pats as an added bonus.

'An extra hard game will always stand to a team. This is a young enough side. We have a few older ones, but the vast majority of them are young and there's a good few Championship campaigns left in most of them, so I think it will stand to us. We picked up a couple of injuries last week, but none tonight and we're back to work on Tuesday night and everyone will be in with a shout for a place on Sunday.'

In both games against Pats, Blues seemed to have a stronger bench and injuries to Moore and O'Brien - and even not starting with Colm Judge the first day - didn't seem to hinder them in the manner that Colin Goss and Jamie O'Hare's absence hurt the Pats.

'We have five or six on the bench that are capable of starting, but it's a 20-man game now and when you have guys that are capable of coming in you're actually strengthening it up as the game goes on.'

The obvious danger now is complacency - not so much because they will be slight favourites for the decider, but because they won such a tight and lengthy semi-final battle.

'We have already had that conversation and our job as a management team is to make sure that doesn't happen. Having come this far they're mature enough now to know what we have to do this week to prepare ourselves for the final.'

It's also the management team's job to instil confidence and self-belief and McDonagh is leading from the front.

'I don't know a great deal about Cooley, but we beat them in the League on a really bad night and it was a tough battle. What can I say - of course we're going to beat them!' he adds, only half-joking.

The Argus

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