Preview: Robert Emmetts take on St Brigids Cloughmills in the All-Ireland Intermediate Hurling Club Championship quarter-final this weekend
By Fiona O’Brien
It has been ten years since Robert Emmetts became the first team outside of Ireland to win an All- Ireland club title. This year’s London champions, who reclaimed the county title they won in 2016, are two games away from another historic outing to Croke Park.
But manager Kevin McMullan is not looking ahead of this weekend’s quarter-final clash against St Brigids. They stumbled at the same hurdle last year, when they lost to Galway champs Abbeyknockmoy in Ruislip on a scoreline of 0-10 to 0-5 in an underwhelming performance compared to their county final win over St Gabriels.
“We let ourselves down last year. We didn’t turn up on the day and only scored five points. I think maybe if we had have played it the following week it could have made some difference because we didn’t perform at all in Ruislip.
“Abbeyknockmoy got to the final and we were looking at it thinking ‘that could have been us’ because we had the win in us, just not on the day.” McMullan has the advantage of knowing quite a bit about this weekend’s opposition, as they don’t come from far away from the Antrim native’s home club Cushendall.
“We’ve done our homework. They are a big, strong team with fast corner-forwards, but so are we. They are just a road away from where Mark (Traynor, Robert Emmetts selector) is from, so he would know quite a few of their players from home too.”
“But we are not taking anything by chance and just focusing on one game at a time. Whoever wins this match goes on to play Carrickshock from Kilkenny, but we can’t look to that yet.
“We’ve spoken to the players and said that the players from St Brigids would have grown up with Richie Power as their hero, and are probably dying to get through to play against him and mad to get to that level. They might think that an Antrim team aren’t strong, but you can’t think like that. An Antrim team beat Kilburn in the final two years ago. It will be a good game and very close.”
It is ten years since Robert Emmetts won, so is the romantic in McMullan hoping to cap off the anniversary with an All-Ireland title?
“It would be amazing to win it in any year, I would have taken it last year. But it would be great to repeat it ten years later.
“But we are taking it one game at a time. It is what we have done all year. Even against Sean Treacys in the semi-final, we never got ahead of ourselves looking to the county final.
“You never know what team you are going to come up against so you just have to focus on the game in hand. Last year we might have lost our focus a bit.
“But we’ve built on that team. We only lost one player from that squad and have added more which has driven us to go on further this year and better what we did last year.”
Usually, this game is played at the start of December, but McMullan says the delay hasn’t affected his team’s preparations.
“We’ve no injuries at the moment. The break has probably done us good because it allowed a few players have enough time to recover from injury; Denis O’Regan got injured playing football for North London Shamrocks while Mark Conroy missed out on the county final through injury.”
And how will the Emmetts deal with the travelling support?
“We never really have a big crowd out supporting us, just the players’ partners and friends. Maybe we would have more if we were playing in Ireland but it won’t make much of a difference to us. I heard that they nearly have a whole aeroplane packed by themselves from the village. We’ll just have to sink a good few scores early on before the crowd get a chance to get behind them!”
St Brigids chairman Damian Watson says there is talk of 250- 300 coming to Greenford for the match.
“We’ve had a great season so far. There’s definitely a real buzz about the place. Apparently there’s about 250-300 people coming over.
“At a normal home match we are lucky to have 30 people, so I don’t know where they are all coming from!
“It hasn’t been hard maintaining focus. An All-Ireland quarter-final doesn’t come around every day so you have to take them when you get them.
“Maybe keeping the boys fit over the Christmas break and away from temptation, but that’s all really.
“We played Boxing Day morning and New Year’s Eve. We are travelling over in hope of a win to be honest. It’ll be tough, but we are looking for a victory to be sure.”
It is Watson’s second year as chairman, and as a lifelong club man he says that this is by far their most successful year.
“I was born and bred in the area and this is the best year by a long shot. We are only in our 25th year of existence, we are a really young club and this is a whole new experience for us.
“I think the difference this year has been hard work and commitment. We come from a very small, mixed community and our new coach has helped a lot, he’s been very good.
“We didn’t set out with an aim to win Ulster, our aim at the start of the year was to win and contest the Antrim title.
“You don’t start thinking about provincial or All-Irelands until then. And coming through Ulster every game was close. They were very hard and a battle each time. Hopefully that’ll stand to us now.”