Mullinalaghta not ready to wake up from dream just yet
When Mullinalaghta St Columba's secured their first Longford senior football title in 66 years last month, they headed home to start the celebrations. But only before an important stop was made.
They pulled into the graveyard for some quiet reflection before the frustrations of the previous six decades and more were released. There they visited the men who had gone before. Some of them had contributed to the great team the club produced in the 1940s and 1950s which won senior championships and several leagues. Others had toiled away with the club with less success.
"It just seemed the right thing to do," according to club captain and former Longford footballer Shane Mulligan. "There's a lot of tradition and history in the club. My own father would have talked about some of those players. There were a lot of barren years too and the fellas on the team now would be grandsons and grandnephews of those men. So it was just a fitting tribute."
Mulligan describes Mullinalaghta as the "typical small place in rural Ireland." A couple of pubs, a national school and the GAA club make up the half parish that powers the football team. The rest of the parish is over the border in Gowna, Co Cavan. And they've seen more lows than highs in recent times.
Mulligan first rocked up to training as a 14-year-old. He's 31 now and the place has been transformed. The facilities are good but the attitude is different too. They won an intermediate title back in 2007 but those around the club knew they had a good crop of youngsters coming along. When Mulligan hung up his boots with Longford after the 2014 season, it was in the back of his mind that he would still like to be active with the club when those players came of age.
"We got to a final three years ago (in 2014) and that was the making of us," Mulligan explains. "For previous years we had been doing little bits but after that I think we knew we weren't that far away."
Liberation came last month. And given how long it had taken to climb to the summit of Longford football again, they could have been forgiven for throwing their hat at Leinster. But there was a league game fixed for the following Friday night and that helped focus minds. By the time Laois champions Stradbally came to Longford, Mullinalaghta were playing with a freedom that seemed to suit them. They landed 1-17 in 60 minutes.
"It's funny. There wasn't as much at stake. There wasn't the same tension that there would be in championship. In Longford all of the clubs know each other, the players know each other. But there was bit more freedom to express themselves."
They face St Loman's Mullingar at home on Sunday. Mulligan lives just outside the Westmeath town now and knows the calibre they carry.
"Before a ball was kicked in Westmeath, they were tipped to win and they did that. And they have players like John Heslin and Paul Sharry and Shane Dempsey so they are a formidable side.
"We put up a big score against Stradbally and we won our county final in tight conditions so we have been in different scenarios and come out of them. So we'll keep the head down and go again."