Maxi Curran is in his second year as St Eunan’s manager and the county U-21 boss is bidding to guide St Eunan’s to back to back county Senior Championship titles.
The Downings native, who believes he has the easiest job in Donegal club management, such is the pool of talent available to him, is happy that his charges are just hitting form at the right time.
“Things have come good in the last few weeks, especially against Glenswilly and St. Michael’s and we are now in the final,” said Curran at the recent press briefing for the RTÉ Ráidió Na Gaeltachta Senior Championship final.
“When you play in 11 or 12 county finals, as John Haran has, these boys can just smell it when it comes to championship time. They are able to crank up the levels and bring everybody else with them,” added the St Eunan’s boss, who singled out Rory Kavanagh in this regard.
“Hunger is not an issue. The younger boys look up at these lads and they want more of it too. It is a brilliant mix.
“He (Rory) was in constant contact throughout the summer. In a way everybody wanted Donegal to go as far as they could, nobody more so than St. Eunan’s who would have wanted Rory back.” Rory Kavanagh spent the summer in Boston playing for Donegal Boston and missed two of the group games including the second round defeat by final opponents, Naomh Conaill.
“If I ‘phoned up on the Saturday (day of semi-final) and said I wasn’t coming, tear away yourselves, the exact same would have happened (against St. Michael’s). They are well able to handle things themselves, such is their experience.”
In relation to the loss to Naomh Conaill in the group stages, the St Eunan’s boss admitted it was a matter of knuckling down and regrouping for the third round game against Dungloe.
“It knocked (Naomh Conaill defeat) us down the ladder of contenders but it gave us a kick. It was a lift to the boys.”
But he also insists that Sunday’s final will be a different game and that St Eunan’s will be much stronger this time around.
“We have a couple of boys back and we’ve played well since that. Going into that game in August, you hadn’t played championship for three months. “Other than it was an unmerciful hammering I don’t think it will have any effect,” said Maxi, who added that St. Eunan’s hadn’t forgotten it.
He admitted that Naomh Conaill had a good record against St. Eunan’s in his time as manager of the Letterkenny side. “We have played five times and they have won four. They kicked 3-17 in a league game a couple of months ago and that should give them a great lift.”
Asked if there was more in St Eunans than has been witnessed to date in the championship? Curran responded: “There probably is. I think the one thing about these Eunan’s boys is they are well able to know what is required on each given day. They are able to treat each game on it merits. The scoreline flattered us in the last few games; it will be nowhere near that margin this time. It is just going to be a very interesting battle.”
He also insisted that it is not just all about the senior players and the experienced quartet of John Haran, Rory Kavanagh, Conall Dunne and Kevin Rafferty.
“Peter Devine has been a big lift to us. Caolan Ward is back as well. We were lucky enough the last day. There was a high level of performance from a large number of players and that all adds up,” said Maxi.
“The goals are massive. Goals change the course of any game and that has been shown in our last two games against St. Michael’s and Glenswilly.
The St Eunan’s manager has worked with a number of the Naomh Conaill players at county senior and U-21 level and rates them very highly and proclaimed them to be the aristocrats of Donegal football.
“When I said that I meant it. Nobody has as many good footballers as Glenties have; there’s hardly a club in the country have seven players of the quality that Kilcar have - that was the point I was making about that. Naomh Conaill are just blessed with talent all over the field.”
Reflecting on the 2012 final and St Eunan’s one point, 1-7 to 0-9, victory.
“There was nothing between them in 2012 and it will be the same on Sunday,” he insisted.
Regan’s first county final
Martin Regan is in his first year in the Naomh Conaill hot seat having taken over from Paddy Campbell and in first season has led his men to a county final a crack at a third Senior Championship crown.
At midfield when Naomh Conaill last raised aloft the Dr Maguire Cup in 2010, Martin Regan was sprung from the bench along with 16 year-old Leo McLoone, when Naomh Conaill defeated St. Eunan’s in the 2015 final replay for the club’s first historic championship win.
It was down to work early once appointed for the new Naomh Conaill rookie manager this year.
“It was around February when we started and we entered the Ulster League. It was the first time we entered the competition and it was good,” said Martin Regan.
“We knew we had a big panel and we had a lot of young lads that we wanted to look at the likes of Kevin McGettigan and Ethan O’Donnell, who we felt were probably ready to step up to senior football.
“We wanted them to get game time because it would not be easy to try them out in the league and we also were aware that the first round of the championship against Dungloe was in May.
The early start and the games in the Ulster League were a big plus but it was the only one. It followed the decision of Leo McLoone and Dermot ‘Brick’ Molloy to step down from the county panel and for the first time in a number of years with the exception of Anthony Thompson, Naomh Conaill had no county distractions. The total focus was on the club and getting back to the top table of Donegal football once more.
For a club that has played in four senior finals and won two in the last ten years and has also claimed four U-21 championship - including a three in-a-row - over the same period, the senior championship is the priority.
“The championship is the number one target from the start of the year. You may be concentrating on picking up points early on in the league but the championship is the number one goal, there is no doubt about that,” insisted the new boss.
“The championship is always at the back of your mind and you are looking towards that first championship game whoever it may be against.”
With the exception of Termon in the quarter-final, Naomh Conaill sailed into Sunday’s final with three straight wins over Dungloe, Sunday’s opponents St Eunan’s and Ardara in the group stages and Kilcar in the semi-final.
The big win of all those was the 2-12 to 0-7 second round win over St Eunan’s in O’Donnell Park.
“We were well ready for that game. We had two months to prepare for it and because we had to play Ardara in the last game and a local derby clash we put all our eggs into the basket for the St Eunan’s,” said Martin.
“It was an important win but I’m not sure if it was the defining game in the championship so far. We know that on our day given the quality in our squad that if we perform to the level we are capable of we that we are more than capable of beating any team.
Tyrone native, Cathal Corey, the manager when Naomh Conaill last won the championship in 2010, has joined Martin Regan on the sideline since before the championship.
“It was something that was always on the cards that he was going to rejoin us. It was Cathal actually rang me at the end of last year and asked me would I consider taking the manager’s job and that he would love to come back and give me a hand if I took the job.
“When you have a man like Cathal willing to help you out it was impossible to say no. Cathal is a very good coach and the boys have great time for him and his return has been a huge boost.
“The timing of his return could not have been better. It was just coming up to the start of the championship and we had a lot of work done and he really lifted things when he rejoined us.
“He is a great speaker in the dressing room. He has a great presence and he can read a game very well and he has excellent ideas for drills in training and he is quick to spot aspects of our game that need improving,” said Regan.