DUNDALK Rugby Club are one win away from ending a 24 year wait for a Provincial Towns Cup.
The last time the side picked up the prestigious trophy was back in 1987, but on Easter Sunday, they can end that barren run if they beat rivals Tullamore in the final.
For their captain, Stephen McGee, a cup final win would be the perfect reward for the months of hard work put in by the squad in this year and the last.
“It means an awful lot to the lads”, said Stephen about reaching the final. Since current player coach Ene Fa’atau came in, the side have reached three Towns Cup semi-finals in 2009 and 2010, losing two of them to Tullamore and most recently, beating Tullow to reach this year’s decider.
“There was a great sense of relief when we got there at the final whistle when we beat Tullow and realised we had made it. There was great celebrations that day but that has come and gone. We are into the final. There is no point going this far without taking that extra step and lifting the trophy on the day.”
In the past two years, there was plenty of hype about Dundalk reaching a final, but this year Stephen and co were keen to keep things low-key.
“We’ve been trying to keep things as low-key as possible in this cup run. At the back of our minds we knew ourselves that we were good enough to get to the final, having nearly proven it over the last two years.
“But we’ve got Tullamore, the team we have failed to beat over the last two years in the Towns Cup so we are hoping it is third time lucky this year.”
The side last reached a Provincial Towns Cup final in 2000. In the 11 years that has passed, a lot has changed, but over the past three years, Dundalk have upped their game and now look ready to add a tenth Towns Cup since the club reformed in 1922.
For Stephen and some of the older squad players, this is a chance to put missed opportunities to bed.
“For myself and the likes of Kenny Dorian, Dave Fearon and Brendan Cunningham who have been around a while and put a lot of effort into the club, it’s a nice reward to get to a Towns Cup final.
“The same for the coach, since Ene came in three years ago, we have improved. We have gone from eighth to fourth to second in the league, two Town Cup semi-finals and now a final.”
Dundalk now face a determined Tullamore side who knocked them out of the competition at the semi-final stage in the last two years. They both recorded a win over each other in the league earlier this year, but none of that matters now come the final, something Stephen is all too aware of.
“They were pretty comfortable scorelines for each home side on the day so Tullamore had a mixed bag of a league and they always produce a good cup run, but form goes out the window. We will look to start with ten man rugby and use John Dodd’s kicking and try to minimise mistakes.
“I think the experience John has will stand to us.
“He’s very calm and assured in everything he does. He gets a lot of distance in his kicking game and it’s been instrumental in our season.”
One thing that Stephen is firmly trying to put at the back of his mind is the family significance coming into the final. Like many other members of the squad, Stephen’s family has a long tradition with the Towns Cup.
“Maybe I’ve read too much into it myself over the last few years, but it is always there. My uncle Vinny lifted the cup in 1970. Another uncle, his brother Gerard was also on the wing to score the winning try.
“My grandfather, PV McGee, has five Towns Cup medals but I am not sure if it was as competitive back then”, laughed Stephen.
“But it is at the back of the mind. I don’t want it skipping a generation.”
Dundalk play Tullamore in the Newstalk Provincial Towns Cup Final on Sunday, April 24 at Edenderry RFC. Kick-off is 3.30pm.
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