Simonstown target Royal breakthrough
Sometimes things just don't happen as they are planned.
Last year, the Simonstown Gaels club in Meath were celebrating 50 years in existence and they made a concerted drive to mark the year with some silverware. But by the time the winter came, they had nothing to show for their efforts.
Early on this year, it looked things might get worse for them before they got better. Of their first two championship games, the Colm O'Rourke-managed side garnered just a point in the table.
"At the start of the year you start off thinking, 'Well, we've as good a chance as any'," former Meath captain and Simonstown star Seamus Kenny explained. "But things didn't go well early on. We drew with the (Wolfe) Tones and lost to Moynalvey. At that stage, we were looking more at survival in the group."
So how did they go from looking to maintain status to hoping to win a first Meath SFC title against Donaghmore Ashbourne on Sunday?
"There was no one thing," Kenny explains. "Just a lot of smaller things that came together at the right time."
The fact that their championship outings from then on were effectively 'do or die' focused minds around Simonstown quickly.
"We got a good run in the Feis Cup, we got to the final of that and lost to Ashbourne after extra-time. And in the championship every game became knockout for us and that put pressure on us and I suppose we responded in the right way to that pressure."
Kenny is 36 now and admits he was a little slower to return to action for the club this year. Having served Meath from 2001-2014, his body takes a little more managing than it used to but the plan was always to be in peak condition for the business end of the season.
The gamble paid off and now Kenny will get a third bite at the cherry having been part of Simonstown sides that came up short in the finals of 2003 and 2004.
"The first final the club reached was in 2003," he recalled. "We had a battle-hardened team at that stage with a lot of lads who were in their late 20s. We played really well in the first half against Blackhall Gaels and at one stage early in the second half we went nine points up.
"Then they just threw the kitchen sink at us. To be honest we were like deer in the headlights then and they won by a couple of points and that was hard to take.
"In 2004, Colm was manager again and he made me captain which was a great honour. We reached the final and played Skryne and they were the better team. That team kind of broke up then; though we got to a couple of semi-finals there was a bit of rebuilding going on."
After 2004 there were a couple of semi-final appearances but they look to have a good mix of raw talent and experience just now.
The talented Shane O'Rourke has been dogged by injury throughout his career but is managing to stay fit. The AFL-bound Conor Nash, who is considered one of the best young players the Royals have produced in some time, lines out beside him in midfield.
However, Donaghmore Ashbourne are the pacesetters in the county. Having graduated from the intermediate ranks back in 2007, they might have been expected to claim a senior title before now but they are making all the right noises this year.
They have already secured the Feis Cup (a Meath knockout competition) and are in the Division 1 league final. A win on Sunday will see them complete the second leg of what could be a remarkable treble.
"They are very big and athletic with some very good footballers," Kenny said.
"They would have been the team that people would have pinpointed as the ones to watch this year. We'll just have to see how we get on."
'Murphy donegal's greatest player'
Michael Murphy is the greatest Donegal footballer of all time and the Ulster side will always have a chance of success with him in its ranks, according to Anthony Molloy, Donegal's only other All-Ireland-winning captain.
The inspirational Murphy put on a masterclass as Glenswilly upset Kilcar in the recent Donegal SFC final and, when fully fit, Molloy feels his class is unrivalled.
"I think we saw the real Michael Murphy in the county final. He is the greatest Donegal player of all time and he has taken Glenswilly to where they are and that is not disregarding his team-mates," Molloy said.
"When you have probably the best player in the country on your team and he clicks on the day it is very hard to see who is going to beat you."
Murphy and county team-mate Neil Gallagher will need to be at their best once again this weekend, however, as they face an uneviable trip to Páirc Esler to face Down kingpins Kilcoo as both sides chase a maiden Ulster title.