THE JOURNEY to any All-Ireland final is a long one, but surely no-one in the Fr. Rocks team has had to travel as far as defender Marty Hughes to get back to Croke Park.
A fixture in the team since his late teens, he took a year away from the sport to work in Australia after the team’s relegation to the intermediate ranks, and had to watch from a distance as his compatriots won their way to the showpiece against Spa three seasons ago.
“It’s nice to be a part of it this time,” Marty said at the Rocks’ press conference on Sunday.
“I actually flew back the night before to watch the guys in the final. Believe me, it was hard to watch from the stand! I kicked every ball and made every tackle.
“It was a bad year to go to Australia maybe, but it’s good that I get another crack at it and play a part in helping the team.
“It is unbelievable to be back in the final. I thought that, after the last time, I would have no chance of getting to an All-Ireland final with Cookstown. But this is something very special, and I am relishing it.
“There is a good buzz in the camp and you feel it around the town. A lot of people are asking me how we are getting on at training. Everyone is mad keen to see us doing well. There is a real buzz amongst the whole community.”
Marty is one of a handful of players who are playing their first final. David Hughes, James McGahan and Ruairi Mullan have all proven themselves in Sky Blue this year, and have no doubt been driven on to bigger and better performances by the heroics of their teammates three seasons ago.
“It is great to have guys who have been and done it alongside you. They keep you level-headed and explain what to expect and how to prepare for the game. They keep your feet on the ground. A bit of experience goes a long way, and thankfully we have it in spades.
“We have a great mix in the team at the minute. There is a few young lads who grew up together and played together, and then you have a few older hands like Mugsy and Paul McGurk. My guess is that mix will see us through.
“I’m probably more nervous than the rest of them put together, just because I haven’t the experience of playing in the final.
“I really want us to do well and get the result of course. The build-up is nice, and it is great to be going to Croke Park and all the hype, but if we don’t take home the medal, it’s all for nothing.
“John (McKeever, manager) says they have a few young guns and a few old heads. They sound pretty similar to ourselves and play a good brand of football, so it will be a tough contest. I think if we can keep our heads and play to our potential, we will definitely have what it takes to get over the line.”