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Easkey Turn Double Heartache Into Shot At All-Ireland Glory

Easkey Turn Double Heartache Into Shot At All-Ireland Glory

What was said, partially in jest, even before Easkey had kicked a ball in the Sligo Junior Championship last year becomes reality for the club this weekend.

On Saturday, Easkey face Kerry side Beaufort in the AIB All-Ireland Club Junior Football Championship final at Croke Park.

"There was a stage there going back maybe six months ago where we hadn't even won in the first round of our club championship and the young lads would saying, 'Sure, we're going to Croke Park this year!' They'd just say it when they saw me coming into the dressing room to wind me up," tells Noel McGuire, one of the team's veteran players.

Easkey is a typical small rural, situated in north Sligo along the Atlantic coast. There's one shop and two pubs.

"Everyone has really bought into it; there's flags and bunting, scarecrows out," says McGuire.

"People are really up for it. Even people who traditionally might not have been that bothered about GAA are talking about it."

That typical village's GAA club has the typical age profile of many a rural team: one with lots of young players in school or college, still living with their parents at the weekend, mixed with veterans and not a whole lot in between.

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There's three or four of us at the wrong end of our 30's and I just turned 40. Eugene Mullin is 38, Brendan McGrath is the same.

Then we have a good number of lads from 18 to 22 and we have very few lads in their mid-20's to 30's. We nearly have a generation of players there who are gone. You've got lads who have moved on, moved to Dublin, moved abroad.

I'd say the average age of our team is 22 or 23 but if you took a few of the older lads out of the equation, it could bring it back down to 20 or 21.

These young lads are Snapchatting and they're doing this and that. They're great lads to be around and they've given the whole team a lift.

Hopefully, they are looking at the older guys like myself, Eugene and Brendan and thinking, 'These guys are really committed to it and it's great to have them on board.' I hope that's what they're thinking!

Easkey's chance at All-Ireland glory comes following a real period of pain for the club. In 2015, they won the Sligo Intermediate Championship but subsequently suffered back-to-back relegation sending them down to junior level.

"Getting relegated out of the senior championship was nearly harder to stomach because we were very unlucky to get relegated that year. It went to a three-game relegation saga and two periods of extra-time.

"Whereas in 2017, when we were relegated out of intermediate, we probably deserved to be relegated because we hadn't the work done.

"I suppose that after we got relegated from intermediate, we met up a few weeks later and set the wheels in motion to get our heads around this.

"Dessie Sloyan came in as manager. Everyone bought into it big time. The focus was really on winning the Sligo Junior Championship and seeing what would happen after that."

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It's nearly seven years since McGuire last pulled on a Sligo jersey in a Connacht Championship game against New York - he turned 40 just before Christmas. The Easkey fullback likes to keep himself in shape, never completely switching off - a habit which has helped extend his career and make the pre-season slog a little bit easier.

"I didn't set a target; I didn't say I was going to play until I'm 37 or 43 or 44.

"It was just about seeing how it went year to year and getting the sign of approval from home as well, which is very important. Luckily enough, my wife has a big GAA background as well. She has encouraged me, which is great."

In 2007 McGuire captained Sligo as they won the Connacht Championship with victory over Galway in the final. That was a great day. This Saturday could be another.

Noel McGuire of Easkey is pictured ahead of the AIB GAA All-Ireland Junior Football Club Championship Final taking place at Croke Park on Saturday, February 9th. For exclusive content and behind the scenes action throughout the AIB GAA & Camogie Club Championships follow AIB GAA on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. Croke Park, Dublin. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

See Also: Former Limerick Boss Welcome Addition To Galway Champions' Set-Up

PJ Browne
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