Dubs chief McConigle has credentials to see Jackies seal final dream
GREGORY McGONIGLE was reared amid the Derry air. He played football with Joe Brolly.
He was Joe's team-mate at two clubs, Dungiven of Derry and St Brigid's of Belfast. The duo won the Derry county and Ulster Senior Football Championship titles in 1997.
But even when he was playing, Gregory's thoughts were very much on management.
"Management always held a big interest for me. I enjoyed all the aspects that went with it, taking the training and all the organisational stuff."
He has established himself as one of the top managers in the sport. On Sunday, he'll come face to face with a man that resembles Brian Cody and Alex Ferguson.
Eamonn Ryan is the Mick O'Dwyer of ladies football. He has Gregory's vote. "Eamonn is a gentleman. Ring him for advice, and he's only too happy to help. He has to be admired for what he has done for Cork ladies football," says Gregory.
"The big thing about Eamonn is that he instils such loyalty among the players. That is one of the major reasons why Cork have been so successful. But for 60 minutes on Sunday, our friendship will have to be put to one side. We'll be going hammer and tongs at it!
"We get on well, but I'd like him even more if it was he who was congratulating me after the game rather than the other way round!"
Gregory achieved much with Monaghan. He led them to National League Division 1 glory, and he also brought them to a couple of All-Ireland finals.
And in his three years in the job, Monaghan won 22 out of 25 Division 1 League matches. He was thrilled to get the Dublin call. "Dublin are the Manchester United of Gaelic football," he announced.
He settled sharply into the Dublin job. The players got straight down to business at the turn of the year. There was a quick tempo to training, challenge games were arranged, and gym programmes were established.
The players responded. "We were happy with the work ethic and there was keen competition for places."
The blue river of personnel emerging from the minor structure has also injected a fresh look to the side.
"Dublin have so much young talent coming through, and there is always ambition in the county."
The team reached their first-ever Division 1 final, losing by inches to Cork at Parnell Park, where earlier they had drawn with them in the group stage.
"They were two good games. Both were very tight. In the league final, we had chances. Cork led by a point and we were chasing the game late on. It was then that they were able to break and get another point to win by two. But it was a very good league campaign for us and we certainly took a lot of positives from it."
Last summer, Pablo Gilheaney had steered the Jackies to the Leinster title. They retained it this summer, but the Dubs hadn't been past the All-Ireland quarter-final stage since they first won the All-Ireland in 2010.
And now here they are polishing their boots for the biggest day of all.
"This is where we wanted to be at the start of the year," relates Gregory. "But we have talked about Sunday and we don't want to be in a situation where we are enjoying the occasion too much. The thing is not to dwell on the trappings of the day. Our aim will be to get out there and play the best we can.
"It's about winning a football match. The occasion is more for families and stuff. It's when you have hung up the boots that you can look back on such days.
"I was reading an article by Darragh ó Sé where he was saying that nobody really enjoys the game itself. And, for us, the only place we want to be is to be driving out the road with the Brendan Martin Cup sitting at the front of the bus."
Cork are well used to having the silver on board. But the Dubs are never too far away from their heels.
"We have had a good championship. We beat a fine Kerry team in the quarter-final, and they were in the All-Ireland final in 2012.
"Then we got over Galway in the semi-final. They were in the semi-final last season. And they are progressing well with all their young players coming through.
"Cork will be a difficult task. But to be winning All-Irelands, you want to be beating the best teams in the country. The league final ebbed and flowed both ways. And our earlier draw with them earlier in the league was the same. They was nothing between us, but hopefully now we'll come out on the right side of the result."
Yet win, lose or draw, the handshake with Eamonn Ryan will be a firm one.