By Damian Dolan
Thomas McCurtains captain Johnny McGuigan is expecting Monaghan’s Blackhill Emeralds to provide a “massive challenge” on Sunday at McGovern Park, and he should know. He grew up with most of them.
From Cremartin in Monaghan, McGuigan played against Blackhill – only a few minutes separates the two clubs on opposing sides of Castleblaney – and even attended Castleblayney College with some of their players.
“I’d know a lot of them very well,” McGuigan told the Irish World.
“If I heard their starting team I could probably tell you a bit about most of them, whether it’s friends from school or just from being in Monaghan.”
While McCurtains were busy tearing it up in the All-Britain, Blackhill were winning an Ulster junior title. McGuigan was following their progress with interest.
In the final, Aidan McCabe’s Blackhill overcame Donegal’s Buncrana by 1-11 to 0-9 at Healy Park.
The club had previously reached the Ulster final in 2106, when they lost out to Rock St Patrick’s of Tyrone by a point after extra-time.
They booked their place in the last month’s provincial decider with a narrow semi-final win over Cavan’s Killinkere (1-14 to 2-9), having seen off Fermanagh’s St. Mary’s Maguiresbridge in the quarter-finals by 1-16 to 0-9.
Their Monaghan junior title win was the club’s second junior county title in four years. They racked up seven goals in their four championship games, including three in their county final win over Drumhowan by 3-8 to 2-8.
“They’ve done really well to win Ulster. I’ve been looking at them going along and been really impressed,” said McGuigan.
“I would have played against them a lot back home and always thought they should be an intermediate team, but once they got up they’d go back down.”
McGuigan, along with brother Paddy, helped Cremartin win a Monaghan junior title 2011 – the club’s first since 1956. They’d reached the final the previous year only to lose out after a replay.
Cremartin went on to reach an Ulster final in 2011, where they were edged out by Tyrone’s Derrytresk by a point. The McGuigan bothers starting at centre back and corner back respectively.
ALL IRELAND QUARTER FINAL
Confirmation that the game will take place on Sunday 8th December at 1.00pm in Ruislip against @BlackhillGAA from Monaghan.
All support needed to turn Ruislip maroon and white.@officialgaa @BPCGAA @UlsterGAA #McCurtainsabú #maroonandwhitearmy 🇶🇦🇶🇦 pic.twitter.com/fVVX56vvux
— Thomas McCurtains (@ThomasMcCurtain) November 23, 2019
It was a “devastating” defeat, particularly as the cup presented to the Ulster junior winners – the Paul Kerr Cup – is named after a Cremartin player tragically killed in a car accident.
“We really thought we’d bring the cup home that year to the cub and his family, but we never did,” recalled McGuigan, who says he’s fully recovered from the knee injury he picked up against Sean McDermotts and which limited him to an appearance off the bench against Glasgow Gaels.
“I’m back training and back in to contact, so I’m hoping to be starting. But there’s serious competition for places,” he said.
On Sunday, Ruislip will be the next stop on a journey which began for the club at the end of January, and no one wants to see come to an end.
“It’s been fantastic for the club as a whole. There’s such a community feel, so it’s great to be able to give something back,” said McGuigan.
“Winning the All-Britain meant a lot to the older members of the club, like Alan Power and Johnny O’Dwyer, and ex-players.
“When we got off the bus with the All-Britain cup there were people there to meet us. Some of them told us later that they’d been playing for years but were never able to bring this trophy home.”
He added: “No matter what you win over here, you’re always asked when you go back home ‘what’s the standard like?’. Playing a team like this is a chance to answer that question and for people to see.”
“We’ll put in our best effort in and give it a good rattle.”