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Added pressure is welcome, says McConnell

Heading into a senior final as defending champions is a nice position to be in but, says Meath’s Gary McConnell, it brings added pressure too – although the Kells clubman welcomes it.

“There’s definitely pressure every year, going in as champions, everyone saying you have a great chance of winning, it does put a bit of pressure on and it’s trying to keep the Kells tradition going as well, that’s nearly a Kells thing now at this stage, you’re winning Senior Doubles. It’s the pressure of that as well, you’re nearly expected to win,” McConnell said.

“It’s tough and everybody is in it to win, you just can’t take anyone for granted. We got off to a great start in the semi-final and it probably just took the Kilkenny lads a little bit longer than us to get into it but they showed how good they are in the second game.

“Some people might say that we took our foot off the pedal but we actually didn’t, the lads showed how good they are and our shots just weren’t coming off as well as in the first game. Everybody is there, everybody is willing to give it their all and the pressure is definitely on us all the time to try and win the title that we won in previous years. You can definitely feel the pressure but it’s good pressure because it keeps you on your toes.”

Interestingly, Gary and partner Brian Carroll swapped roles last time out, with McConnell playing the right, and he says that will remain the case for the final.

“Brian is over playing on the left and he’s flying, his confidence is right up after getting the win in the Irish Nationals. Everything seems to be going to plan, he was brilliant at the weekend and he’ll be playing on the left in the final. Hopefully next year if we’re playing, I’ll be back over on the left but for now I will be playing on the right.”

Gary is counting down the days to what has the makings of a high-quality encounter.

“Meath and Dublin final, it’s going to be brilliant, I’m really looking forward to it. I’m sure the two lads have a plan coming into the game and we’ll have a plan too so hopefully it’s a good game and I’m sure the lads will give it all as we will and hopefully we’ll come out the other end of it.

“We definitely are expecting a tough game. We all know what a legend Eoin is, he’s one of the idols I looked up to for years growing up, going to All-Ireland finals for years looking at Eoin.

“Boo (Carl Browne) is going to be on the right chasing down everything, working hard, I’m expecting a really tough game and I’m just myself and Brian can bring our best game. The way we look at it, if we’re playing well, I don’t think there’s anyone out there that can beat us.

“So we’re just hoping that we can bring our A game again and put on a good performance but it’s not going to be easy, the lads are going to be really tough. And that’s what we want as well in an All-Ireland senior final, you want the two best teams in it, four lads giving it the best they can and putting on a good show for the crowd. We’re hoping for a good game and hopefully it will go our way.”

Gary believes GAA Handball should consider fixing a larger programme of matches for senior finals day if feasible, to attract a crowd and build the best atmosphere possible.

“There’s no point looking out looking at blue seats, empty seats. I just think it’s pointless having games on at the same time around the country, I think we need to get our night back for 60x30 finals where you have your minor, intermediate and senior games. To draw a crowd, the last couple of years you’re playing all-Ireland finals and there’s nobody at them…

“Croke Park is always good to play in and I love to be able to say that I played in Croke Park and it drives me on to get to play there.”

Tickets for the senior and minor finals are available here.