Tubberclair manager Martin McCabe at training last Friday evening. Photo: Paul Molloy.

Tubberclair bid for county crown with promotion a ‘huge incentive’

Twenty-one years ago, Martin McCabe was the manager who led Garrycastle to their first Westmeath senior football title. Now he’s trying to guide Tubberclair to this year’s intermediate crown and one suspects that it would mean just as much to him.

Tubberclair face Shandonagh in Saturday’s intermediate final at TEG Cusack Park (throw-in 4pm) and McCabe is wary of a “very experienced opponent” who have won their last two championship games (against Ballymore and Milltown) by a single point.

“When we were playing junior two years ago, Shandonagh were playing senior. They have a lot of experienced players and experience of different situations,” McCabe said.

“Looking at their last few games, they’ve been grinding out wins and that makes them a very tricky and difficult opponent, but we’re looking forward to it.

“On a personal level, I don’t think I’ve ever been with a team that played against Shandonagh. I’ve no memory of being involved on a sideline against Shandonagh.”

McCabe points out that Shandonagh competed well in Division 1 of this year’s league campaign, whereas Tubberclair were “hanging on” in Division 2.

The Tubberclair manager has been impressed with the way Shandonagh have been finishing games and the impact made by the subs they have introduced.

Tom Molloy led the way in Shandonagh’s narrow win over Milltown (1-12 to 1-11) in their semi-final, a game which required extra-time to decide the outcome. “As well as a score getter, he’s a good man to give assists. He has a good knack of playing the ball with his head up, that’s what I really like about him. He brings other players into the game and he’s a dangerous opponent,” said McCabe about Molloy.

In the view of some observers, this young Tubberclair team has exceeded expectations in reaching this year’s final. But now that they have done so, McCabe naturally wants his players to do all in their power to go the whole way.

“You have to prepare well and do all the things that help you to win and that’s all we can do. There is a certain amount of excitement and a buzz around the place when you get to these finals, but you need to calm yourselves down and stick to the process. I know it’s a cliche that they all use at the minute,” he said.

“We have lads who have been in underage finals and we have a good enough record in finals. It’s a big challenge but we reckon we’re well able to compete.”

Tubberclair received many plaudits for their impressive semi-final win over St Mary’s, Rochfortbridge (1-17 to 0-13).

“On the day we probably played the conditions a bit better than St Mary’s, Rochfortbridge. There was a strong breeze and it was about containment in the first half and we figured that we’d be able to work the scores better (in the second half) in the conditions that prevailed,” said McCabe on that game.

“We spoke about the conditions and how we’d try to use them to our advantage. We have the shooters to take these chances and, luckily enough, they went over for us,” continued Martin.

The weather conditions were very different when Tubberclair began their campaign. “We played the first match against Kilbeggan and I think it was about 29 or 30 degrees!” recalled Martin.

With Tubberclair having a predominantly young team, McCabe is glad of the experience provided by the likes of Graham Whittaker (whose son Matthew has developed into a key attacker), Conor Elliott (“he scored five points in the junior final to get us here”) and Niall Walker.

“Graham is very athletic and he's very much into fitness. He’s a great example to all the rest of the lads as well as his son Matthew,” said McCabe.

Martin’s own son Eoghan has developed into an important player for Tubberclair, forming an effective midfield partnership with Sean Claffey. “They are two young lads who are working well together and they are good friends off the pitch, as all the group are. The lads get on well, they socialise together and are in constant contact. They are able to help each other out on and off the pitch. Brian Cody uses the phrase ‘panel spirit’ and we’re lucky in that regard.”

With the Tubberclair minor (U-17) team competing in the Division 1 championship final against St Loman’s, Mullingar this Sunday (TEG Cusack Park, 2pm), there is plenty of excitement building around Glasson and surrounding areas.

“Cathal (Tighe) has done well with that minor team right up to U-16. Daniel Sammon has taken them over and he has them in the final which is a great team effort. There is a lot of good work going in at underage level in the club, and the next chapter is to keep them playing to adult level,” said McCabe.

Martin is reporting no injury worries from the semi-final, though Alan Coffey remains out with a long-term injury.

McCabe is assisted in the management team by former Westmeath All-Star goalkeeper Gary Connaughton, Declan Kelly, Seamus ‘Bomber’ Greene and Matt Keegan.

“Jim Byrne is in the background and Jim was involved when Tubberclair won at senior level (1985), he was the manager years ago,” said Martin, whose brother Dermot McCabe, the former Cavan star, and Fergal Wilson have helped out with some training sessions.

If Tubberclair captain Jason McHugh lifts the Peter Geraghty Cup on Saturday, the club will move up to the senior ranks, which McCabe believes would be a “huge” boost.

“It would give huge incentive to U-17 players that they would be going straight into a senior club and have the opportunity of playing senior championship football. We’ve played a lot of underage football at lower divisions, so to work our way up to senior level would be a big fillip for all these players,” he added.