Ballagh’s captain is fully focussed on his first Connacht club final
HE may have played for his county in All-Ireland Minor and U-21 Finals, but Stephen Drake says that next Sunday’s Connacht Club Championship Final is the biggest game of his life.
The Ballaghaderreen captain will lead his team into battle against St Brigid’s next Sunday demanding “pride and passion” from his troops, as they bid to win a first ever provincial club title.
“Personally, emotionally, in terms of what the club means to me, this is the biggest game I’ve ever played in my life,” Drake told The Mayo News.
“I always got a great thrill out of pulling on a Mayo jersey but you don’t get the joy and satisfaction from playing, and winning, with your club anywhere else.
“The club is where you start and where you end. This is the biggest game I’ve ever played. We want to represent our club with pride and passion. We might never get this chance again. We can’t wait for it.”
St Brigid’s have been installed as raging hot favourites to win their third successive Connacht club title and, after watching them at close quarters in recent seasons, Stephen Drake is under no illusions about the task at hand.
“We know Brigid’s well. We’ve played them a lot in challenge games over the years and I’ve seen them in the flesh a good bit. They’re a fantastic, brilliant team,” said the 28 year-old.
“They were in an All-Ireland Final two years ago and are one of the best club teams in the country.
“It’s a mammoth task for us but this is why you play football. You want to test yourself. We can’t wait to go to battle.
“If we can replicate for sixty minutes what we did for thirty minutes against Curry then we’ll be hard to beat. If we do that, and St Brigid’s beat us, then fair play to them. They’ll deserve it.”
Ballagh’ have put down a number of “really good” training sessions since their semi-final win over the Sligo champions.
Despite their impressive second half showing, their first half inertia against Curry was obviously a major talking point among Mark Dowd and his players when they returned to the training ground.
Their experienced skipper has his own take on why Ballaghaderreen were so out of sorts.
“Curry are a very good team, especially in an attacking sense. They were different to anything we’d encountered all year. Ballintubber are a very measured and methodical team. They grind teams down as opposed to blow them out of the water. It took us a while to get used to Curry, to get our bearings. When we did I thought we coped very well.”
The town of Ballagh’ has been decked out in the club colours in recent times and next Sunday’s Connacht Final, the club’s first in 40 years, is the main topic of conversation among the locals.
Drake, whose father Noel also played for the club, believes that the positive energy will stand to Ballagh’ when push comes to shove on Sunday.
“There’s great excitement. This is a situation we haven’t been in before. We’ve been in county finals so we knew, in our heads, what not to do. It was the same against Curry.
“It’s new ground for us on Sunday.
“But, at the same time, I suppose it’s a quite similar to the county final in the sense that it’s a team going for three-in-a-row and our mandate is to stop them.
“This is a huge game for us,” he added. “We want to win.”
Connacht Club SFC Final
Ballaghaderreen v St Brigid’s
Sunday, November 25
Castlebar at 2pm
Referee: Marty Duffy (Sligo)