'The thing we lacked in previous years was belief'
An All-Ireland semi-final and a potential run out in Croke Park is all uncharted territory for Pádraig Pearses as a club. But if Pat Flanagan’s side is asked to travel to Dublin 3 for their clash with Kilmacud Crokes, corner-forward Conor Payne is confident that he has the experience needed to thrive on the GAA’s biggest stage of all.
“I actually have (played there before), in an U-12 hurling blitz!” he boasted after last Sunday's Connacht final, with one tongue firmly lodged in his cheek.
“It was only across the pitch but I’ll take it! I think every player in the country who plays Gaelic football or hurling wants to play there, so hopefully we’ll get the chance to do that," continued Conor, a brother of Irish soccer international Heather Payne.
With the win over Knockmore locked in the bag, Payne could break long-established GAA protocol and admit that he sat and watched Kilmacud Crokes in the Leinster final the previous night, hoping that they would get a shot at the winners.
“I thought Kilmacud looked very impressive in the second half. Naas got at them a good bit in the first half, they could have been a bit better off at that stage, but Kilmacud are just a very composed team. They are well-organised, even against Portarlington, who are a really good side, they closed it out really well.
"Kilmacud have a habit of finishing out games strong so we’ll have to watch out for that the next day.”
Key Kilmacud forward Paul Mannion - a multiple All-Ireland medal winner with Dublin - looks almost certain to miss the All-Ireland semi-final through injury.
“If Paul Mannion doesn’t make it of course that’s a boost for us, but they have a lot of really good players other than him, so we’ve a lot of work to do,” said Payne.
One thing is clear, however – the days of Pádraig Pearses going into games against established opponents with any sense of fear or trepidation is very much gone out the window.
“In 2019, we got to the Connacht final and we did give Corofin a good game for three quarters of it at least. The belief was always there that we could get back to that level,” said Conor.
“When Pat came in four years ago and he looked at the talent that was in the dressing room, he always felt that we had the capability to go on and compete at a provincial level. Especially this year, when we got our act together, to beat Brigid’s and Clann, our two rival clubs meant confidence grew. Then beating Mountbellew-Moylough the last day, it was a controversial game, very much 50/50, but if you can beat the Galway champions confidence will definitely be high.”
“The thing we were lacking in previous years was just belief, and that’s certainly there now,” Payne added.