James McGivney remembers in full colour his first meeting with Mickey Graham. The Cavan man had just taken over as manager of Mullinalaghta.
"He said these opportunities come in cycles," McGivney said at an AIB event.
"He had one with Cavan Gaels and he said, 'Your opportunity is coming now, and it’s up to you to take it.' We all bought into the cause that night and we worked really hard."
The sessions which followed left them barely able to breathe and unable to find rest at night. "You’d be that tired rolling and twisting in aches and pains."
Rewards for that hard work arrived quickly. In 2016, the little parish of Mullinalaghta - with a population of 350 - 400 - won their first Longford SFC title in 66 years. Two more would follow as they defeated local rivals Abbeylara in each final.
This year has seen them reach uncharted territory for a Longford side in the Leinster championship. Having defeated Rhode in the quarter-final and Éire Óg in the semi-final, they will face the might of Kilmacud Crokes in the decider.
David vs Goliath is the kind of term being used to describe the game. "When you cross the white line it’s 15-on-15. It doesn’t matter how many numbers you have," offers McGivney in response.
There is no denying the divide in the size of Sunday's opponents: Mullinalaghta have a membership of 155, Kilmacud's is 4,800.
"There’s 25, 26 lads there training every night, that's as much as you’re going to get out," says McGivney.
It’s been great commitment, all the players have bought into it for the last three or four years. We can’t ask for any more from any of the other guys.
We’ve around five or six lads living in Dublin, we’ve two lads in college down in Limerick, and a lad in college in Athlone. Look it, it’s very easy going to training when you’re winning, everything is a lot easier.
Graham's ability to keep the training sessions consistently fresh has also maintained enthusiasm.
"You’re going to training with a smile on your face and you’re leaving with a smile on your face.
"He just always says the right things at the right time. He’s very cool when the pressure is on. He has us very well-drilled, if we concede a goal, no-one drops their head. If there’s time on the clock, once the game is still on, there’s always time to get it. He has that instilled in us."
Mullinalaghta's scantiness in numbers can also be an advantage. Tight-knit doesn't get there in describing the closeness of the club. There are the usual tea and sandwiches after training sessions, the provision of which rotates between every family in the parish.
Then there's the brothers. So many, McGivney is certain he's leaving some out.
"I’ve a brother, David in midfield. There’s the two Rogers, the goalie and the half-forward; there’s two Mulligans, they’re on the half-back line; there’s five McElligots, two of them are starting; there’s two Foxes, the full-back and the full-forward. I’m definitely missing someone else."
Mickey Graham has harvested the Mullinalaghta crop but the seeds were sown by Dan McElligott, father of the five McElligott brothers on the panel.
Originally from Kerry, McElligott had an impact on the entire Mullinalaghta group, teaching them from under-10 up.
The most important time in anyone’s career is getting the techniques right and Dan McElligott would have definitely been one of the lads who was instilling that in all of us.
You’ll see Dan at all the Longford games with a ‘Mullinalaghta on tour’ flag. That’s him. Dan is a serious supporter. He does video work as well on all our games.
On Sunday morning, McGivney's warm-up will begin long before his Kilmacud opponents and many teammates. A farmer, he had to drop off the Longford panel earlier this year due to work commitments. Neither can those work commitments be ignored this weekend.
"One night, we were training up in Dublin and that’s like a five or six hour round trip for me. That’s a lot of time away, and especially in the calving season. That particular night, there was a dead animal because there was no one on the farm. So that really pushed me to take a break for a while until the calving season calmed down
"Before club games on a Sunday morning, at 10, or half 8, or whatever time, you have to be out on the field two or three hours before that to get your jobs done.
"Before the Leinster final, me and my brothers will probably do around two hours outside that morning, go to the game, come back home and do another two hours in the evening time. Go up then and enjoy a few pints or whatever."
Mullinalaghta and Longford’s James McGivney is pictured ahead of the AIB GAA Leinster Senior Football Club Championship Final where they face Kilmacud Crokes on Sunday, December 9th at Bord na Mona O'Connor Park.
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