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Dublin: 6 °C Thursday 21 November, 2019

'I just turned 40 before Christmas' - the Connacht winning captain set for an All-Ireland club final

Sligo’s 2007 winning captain is getting set for a Croke Park day with his club.

Noel McGuire captained Sligo to glory in 2007.
Noel McGuire captained Sligo to glory in 2007.
Image: Eóin Noonan/SPORTSFILE

IN 2012 HE called time on his inter-county days with Sligo, a run out against New York proving the final chapter in Noel McGuire’s career at the top.

He’d sampled life as a defender against an array of elite forwards, put down years of service to the county cause and had one shining memory to take with him into retirement – his status as captain on the team that ended Sligo’s 32-year wait for Connacht glory in 2007.

There was a role for a season in the Sligo backroom team in 2017 as he worked closely alongside Niall Carew.

And there was a familiar return to base after his county days had concluded, plying his club trade with Easkey.

But an appearance on the glamour stage of Croke Park for an All-Ireland club decider at the 40?

That was a prospect that he could never possibly countenance yet the veteran defender will sample that arena on Saturday afternoon after a season that has continued through the depths of winter, bypassed a landmark personal birthday and seen Easkey reach the final hurdle as one of the last two junior football forces standing in the country.

“It’s nice to get another opportunity to play a high-profile game in Croke Park,” says McGuire.

“I just turned 40 before Christmas! It’s great to still be going. I didn’t expect to be playing to this age but thanks be to God, I’m in good shape.

“I’d do my own bit of training in the off-season. I always like to go for a run so when it comes to pre-season training, I’d be ready for it.

“I’ve found that if you switch off altogether and then come back for pre-season, you find yourself breaking down. That’s experience that I gained from playing inter-county football and it was nearly bred into me to keep ticking over.

Captain Noel Maguire celebrates with Charles Harrison Noel McGuire celebrates Sligo's 2007 Connacht triumph with David Kelly. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“I didn’t set a target. I didn’t say I was going to play until I’m 37 or 43 or 44. I kind of took it from year to year.

“It’s really unbelievable. Everyone, because we’ve gone through that pain, we appreciate this even more.

The chance of playing in an All-Ireland final seemed remote as Easkey plummeted through the grades in Sligo club football, experiencing the bracing pain of relegation.

“Unfortunately, we were relegated year-on-year. We were relegated out of senior in 2016 and intermediate in 2017. It was back-to-back, which was tough to take.

“I suppose that after we got relegated from intermediate, we met up a few weeks later and set the wheels in motion to get our heads around this.

“Dessie Sloyan came in as manager. Everyone bought into it big time. The focus was really on winning the Sligo junior championship and seeing what would happen after that.”

Their campaign has rolled on and picked up considerable momentum since. They overcame Galway’s Clonbur to lift the Connacht crown and then saw off Donegal’s Red Hughs in the recent All-Ireland semi-final.

“It’s really unbelievable. Everyone, because we’ve gone through that pain, we appreciate this even more.

“There’s a great buzz around. It’s a small village: one shop, two pubs; your typical rural village but everyone has really bought into it. There’s flags and bunting, scarecrows out.

“People are really up for it. Even people who traditionally might not have been that bothered about GAA are talking about it. There’s such genuine interest in it, the fact that we’re going to Croke Park, the whole parish is going to be there, without a doubt.”

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Fintan O'Toole

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