Ross McGowan remaining focused for Crokes
By Michael Devlin
“Next kick-out. Next kick-out.”
That was all that was going through Ross McGowan’s head as Craig Rogers was stepping up to the penalty spot for Portlaoise in injury time last day out.
Kilmacud were three ahead in the dying embers of their Leinster Senior Football semi-final before Portlaoise sub Scott Lawless was fouled as a high ball dropped in on David Nestor’s goalmouth.
The Dublin champions had been leading all the way through, but goals from Portlaoise at crucial times throughout the game kept them in touch. Rogers’ 47th-minute goal levelled matters, but three Crokes points moved them ahead again and within sight of victory before referee David Coldrick awarded the late spot kick in a dramatic finale.
“We've all the faith in Nestor, but we're always thinking about that next ball,” McGowan told GAA.ie. “In fairness to Nestor, he stepped up. It was a phenomenal save and it wasn't just that save, he had a phenomenal game altogether.
“There were a few one-on-ones where he really kept us in the game. I was nervous alright, but I remember leaping off the bench delighted. I was delighted he managed to make that save anyway.”
Even if the kick had gone in, did McGowan think there was enough time left on the clock for Kilmacud to go back down the field and muster up a winning score?
“Yeah, I do think so. I think Dave knew that himself as well. That's the mentality we have, we get up and get on with it. We get the next ball and the next score.”
Crokes’ defensive record had been rock-solid up until that game. They hadn’t conceded a goal in six Championship games, but leaking three in one game will gave Kilmacud some homework in preparation for Longford’s Mullinalaghta this weekend.
“I think we conceded one against Ballyboden in April. We had a very good defensive record and we were a little bit disappointed obviously to concede three,” says McGowan. “If it wasn't for Nestor having such a great day, it could have been more. It's definitely something we looked at and we’re analysing, to make sure we reduce those errors. It’s frustrating all the same conceding three goals.”
So Crokes go from Portlaoise, a town of around 22,000 residents, to Mullinalaghta, a tiny club on the Longford-Cavan border whose population measures somewhere between 350 and 400. Much has been made of the ‘David v Goliath’ narrative the game has taken on. Kilmacud are one of the biggest and most successful clubs in the country, and the two-time All-Ireland champions fielded well over 100 15-a-side teams across football, hurling, camogie and ladies football - a membership swells at around 4,000.
McGowan is well-aware though that while the difference in stature of the two clubs is vast, Kilmacud will be fielding 15 players on Sunday just like Mullinalaghta.
“As players we're in our own little bubble. We'll always focus on analysing our own performances and making sure we get our stuff right and also treating the opposition with the respect they deserve.
“Although they're a small community they're a strong, strong football team. They've won Longford the last three years and they've been involved in Leinster, they've had their experience.
“They beat Rhode by two points, 18 points as a winning margin in a semi-final is something you can't dismiss so while there is that story of ‘David vs Goliath’, we're very aware that there's 15 lads on the pitch at any one stage. We're focused on the job at hand and we're making sure we get a performance in.”
McGowan was a teenager during the Kilmacud heyday of the noughties, following his local heroes such as Paul Griffin, Darren Magee and Ray Cosgrove as they won three Leinster titles and one All-Ireland. He made his senior club debut fresh out of minor five years ago, but has had to contend with the disappointment of losing Dublin championships before ending an eight-year drought this season.
“It was great to be along of those journeys and be part of it. It's something that has propelled me into where I am now, being on those journeys and seeing the lads and how successful they were and wanting to be in that position.
“We don't want it to be another eight years before we're in a Leinster championship again. We're focusing on the job at hand in that we can't take anything for granted, we don't know if we're going to be here again this time next year or whatever. We're just learning from a decade ago.”
“I'm five years on the team now and I've certainly felt the pain of losing a Dublin championship. I know how difficult it is just to get out of Dublin, so myself and a lot of the other lads who were on that journey with me are well aware that these days might not come around all that often. We're all about just focusing and making sure we get over the next game, it's so important.”