RORY Kavanagh has played in two All-Ireland finals, winning one, and he has picked up three Anglo-Celt medals, but he is still gunning for a sixth Dr Maguire winners medal with his club St Eunan’s on Sunday afternoon.
The Scoil Colmcille schoolteacher has won quite a few accolades as a player down through the years but you get the feeling that this time it’s a little different.
When Maxi Curran took on the manager’s job at O’Donnell Park at the start of the year the first thing he did was appoint the midfielder as his captain.
St Eunan’s were captained in the league by Peter Devine, but he has since moved to Dubai. That left Curran with the void to fill and he turned to his experienced midfielder.
It’s a badge he carries with immense pride and there will be no happier man in MacCumhaill Park on Sunday evening should St Eunan’s overcome the challenge of neighbours Glenswilly.
Following the All-Ireland final defeat at the hands of Kerry at the end of September, the St Eunan’s man admitted that he didn’t want to talk about football – let alone play the game.
However, with the club championship getting underway less than a week later he had to put Donegal to one side and concentrate on club football.
An opening day meeting with Malin, the team who knocked St Eunan’s out of the 2013 championship at the quarter final stage, allowed him to do just that and thankfully for both him and his team mates they haven’t looked back since.
“A lot of our boys had their eyes opened by Maxi in terms of his preparation and analysis and he’s a great man manager. There’s nothing but respect for Maxi within this group of players for guiding us back to a county final,” he said.
The Cathedral town team are going through a transitional period and, as a result, not too many people tipped them to reach championship final Sunday this time around.
They reached the decider following a pulsating one-point win over St Michael’s at MacCumhaill Park last Saturday night with Kavanagh firing over the game’s best score to draw the sides level late on. It was also the best game of this year’s championship to date.
“I think the way the championship has been, week to week; we just decided to go for it. That’s the approach we went with. They came at us and we went at them and it made for an entertaining game of football. There were turnovers and chances at either end right the way through. You have to feel sorry for the likes of Colm (McFadden) and Christy (Toye) who’ve been around so long but that said we were delighted to get over the line,” he said.
You have to go back to 2000 – against Ardara – for Rory’s first final appearance.
“I remember Damian Diver running the show that day. Up and down, up and down, no one could handle him. I was 18 years old. I think I started at wing forward.
“I won my first the year after (2001) against Four Masters. It was a poor game if I remember right. When you break into the side you just want to be competing in county finals so I’ve been very lucky over the years,” he said.
Sunday’s local derby meeting with Glenswilly will be his tenth final but they haven’t always been happy occasions.
“We’ve been in a lot of finals. I remember losing to Naomh Conaill after a reply and to Gaoth Dobhair after Stephen Cassidy grabbed a last-minute goal. We then did the ‘three-in-a-row’ (2007-09),” he said.
The first in the three in-a-row sequence was against Sunday’s opponents.
“That was a very important win over Glenswilly in 2007. I remember John Haran asking us to all step up before that game. We won it again in 2012,” he recalled.
Looking forward to Sunday’s final, Rory admits it will be a ‘big ask’ for St Eunan’s to win title number 14 – allowing them to join Gaoth Dobhair at the top of the roll of honour.
“Glenswilly are county champions and they’ve accumulated a lot of experience over the last few years. We’ve probably surprised a few sides going into the final this year because we were seen as a side in transition. But we’re there now and we’ll be looking to win it,” he said.
Rory was an interested spectator at the Glenswilly v Naomh Conaill semi-final in Letterkenny last Sunday afternoon – a game that could have gone either way – but all his thoughts now are on the final.
“We’re close neighbours. We all know each other very well. There will be contrasting styles in how we both set up. Glenswilly are very economical. They play to their strengths. In fairness, the likes of Michael (Murphy), Neil (Gallagher), ‘Copper’ (Gary McFadden) and Ciaran Bonner; they’re all big, strong and quality players. We’ll have to be on top of our game.”
“With the size of the parish you have to really admire what they’ve done. We were lucky to have a deep crop of players back in 2007, 08 and 09. Glenswilly are similar now and they’re looking to make the most of it.
“They’re all similar in age and stature. They were unlucky in the Ulster club final in fairness. It’s been a bit of a revolution out there. You have to tip your hat to them,” he said.
Rivalry between the two clubs has grown in recent years which, according to Kavanagh, should make for an interesting final.
“There’s no love lost between the teams. There’s a healthy rivalry. We know each other well and spend a lot of time in each other’s company outside of football. There’s a lot of respect between both sets of players but that will be put to bed for a while on Sunday,” he said.