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'At 38, did I think I'd be back at Croke Park? No' - the Monaghan All-Star eyeing All-Ireland club glory

Tommy Freeman and Magheracloone are preparing for the last step of their dream journey against Galway side Oughterard.

Magheracloone star forward Tommy Freeman.
Magheracloone star forward Tommy Freeman.
Image: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

WHEN MONAGHAN ALL-STAR Tommy Freeman called time on his inter-county career a few years back, little did he think he’d grace the hollowed turf of Croke Park again. 

On Saturday, the 38-year-old returns with his club, Magheracloone, as they look to end their dream journey on a high in the AIB All-Ireland intermediate final.

The last time he played at the Jones’ Road venue was in the Farney’s 2013 All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Tyrone, but Freeman has been rolling back the years of late with stellar club performances.

“To be honest, at 38 years of age did I think I’d be back at Croke Park? No,” the forward says.

“But I remember saying at training after we won our county championship, ‘These competitions can take you to places that you only dream of going to with your club’.

It was a great honour to play for Monaghan and one of my dreams was to play at Croke Park and I got to do that on a few occasions, so to do it with your club, everyone says it’s extra special.

Magheracloone’s story has been well-documented since devastating sinkhole damage destroyed their club grounds in September 2018. With a temporary training facility set up now, the team still train away from their home parish at times.

That loss was further compounded by the Mitchells’ relegation from the senior ranks, though James Kieran’s side will hope to put the icing on an intermediate campaign to remember as they finish up against Galway’s Oughterard in the showpiece on Saturday night [throw-in 5.15pm, live on TG4].

“It has been a tough time, but this group has put the head down and got on with it,” Freeman added. “Obviously to make it the whole way to an All-Ireland final is extra special because of everything that went on.

Listen, people say you’re in bonus territory but I’m not going to beat around the bush, it’s an All-Ireland final and you want to win it. For the parish, winning it would be unbelievable and, as people say, it would nearly put you on the map.

“After the year we have had, losing all our facilities, it would be a massive lift to young and old in the parish. I wouldn’t say there will be a person in Magheracloone on Saturday evening!

“In a nutshell, winning it would be very special.”

Oughterard are the Magheracloone’s opponents, after they surprised much-fancied Templenoe in the semi-final.

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tomas-fahey-shoots-wide-with-eddie-osullivan Oughterard's Eddie O'Sullivan in action for Galway in the 2019 All-Ireland junior final. Source: Tommy Grealy/INPHO

Full-back Eddie O’Sullivan said they “had our homework done” on the Kerry side who have Adrian Spillane, Killian Spillane Gavin Crowley and Tadhg Morley in their ranks, and the parish are now preparing for their biggest day yet.

“The place has gone ape altogether,” he said. “It wasn’t until we got to the semi-final this year that people really started to get behind us, and then after the final, the place went buck ape.

“Since the Templenoe game, there has been nothing only football talked in the parish.”

There’s more football talk than ever in the O’Sullivan household too, ahead of the defender’s HQ debut.

“It will be my first time ever togging out at Croke Park, and probably the only time,” he laughs. “My auld lad played in a minor All-Ireland final in 1976, he scored 1-3 when they beat Cork. You wouldn’t be let forget that in our house!

“It’s very exciting to be heading there and good for people in the town. It’s a dream come true to play there; it’s a cliché, but that’s actually true. It was always a dream more than an aspiration, so it’s great to be there. To win it would be huge.”

- With reporting from title sponsors AIB.

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Emma Duffy

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