Club All-Stars – Stephen Cusack

If he hadn’t already, Stephen Cusack definitely secured his legendary status around the Lough Shore after another fantastic season in the blue and yellow!

‘Staffy’ picked up his clubs first ever All-Star in 2017, playing a starring role in helping Maghery reach the championship decider.

He did likewise in 2020 only this time his final display ensured that his side got over the line to lift the Gerry Fegan Cup for the second time in their history.

“It’s always nice to get recognised for playing your part in your clubs success. They’ll be good to look back on in 20 or 30-years’ time. It’s always good to think ‘yeah I contributed in some way’.

A hamstring injury picked up during the league threatened to impact Cusack’s influence in the championship, but a tactical tweak by manager Finnian Moriarty ensured he’d play.

Cusack lined out at centre-field in three of their four outings and got comfortable in his new role, “I was on the phone to Ben (Crealey) every day saying, ‘what’s the chances here, you getting back?”

“It kind of suited, the way teams play nowadays, most teams play with maybe 11 men behind the ball. There’s not really much man-marking in today’s game, you have a lot of freedom around the middle of the field”.

“Finn is very cute in how he lines teams out, the way he sees what the opposition’s going to do. It suited me getting more time on the ball and you can make your runs and dictate the game more, basically I could get my hands on the ball more”.

While he managed to start in the opening round against Dromintee, his injury denied him the chance to play from the beginning against Clann Eireann in the quarter final.

Moriarty fired one last roll of the dice and sent Cusack into the fray to rescue the game, although his inclusion only lasted for a short period.

“There was five minutes to go, and they were two points up. I just said to Finn, I thought we were beat, ‘I might as well pull the thing right or go and do something’. We got it back to a draw, I’d come on to stand around midfield”.

“I’d run after Henderson one time and Ryan wouldn’t sprint that much, but he sprinted when he seen me! I tried to sprint after him and I felt a wee twinge and Finn just says ‘If we’re going to do anything, you might as well come off and we’ll have you for another day’.

“Two weeks of good rehab, I wasn’t too bad coming into the Pearse Og game. If you’re ever going to win a championship, you need everybody fit in the business end of the championship, in the semi-final and final”.

Cusack was ready to rock for the semi-final and it was his 1-1 in quick succession that turned the game and Maghery’s season.

The win over the city side saw them clash with their old rivals Crossmaglen in the showpiece, “Us and Cross have really been rivals from 2012 and I think it would have been bad for Armagh football if Maghery and Cross didn’t meet in at least one final”.

“If you’re going to beat Cross, you have to go at them. If you sit back, you’re going to get beat. And if you don’t score at least two goals you’re not going to win that’s just the way they are.

It’s not that they’re very open, it’s just the way Cross play. They’re very attacking, ‘if you score 16 we’ll score 17’, that’s just the way they play and you’ve got to credit that too, there’s no fear in them”.

While Maghery lifted their maiden crown in 2016, the only blemish on their record was the fact they didn’t beat Crossmaglen, something that can’t be said this time around.

“In 2016, we didn’t care who we beat, a championship is a championship, we’re not going to discredit it although we didn’t beat Cross on that run.

I wouldn’t say it’s sweeter, a second championship is sweet enough in itself. It stops people saying ‘you never beat Cross in the championship’ you’re always going to get that threw at you but now that’s put to bed. It wouldn’t matter who we beat as long as you win”.

With Covid-19 restrictions still in place, Maghery’s homecoming was a little different, but special nonetheless.

“We were all parked up at the chapel and we just walked down from the chapel, over the bridge. The youth down in Maghery, there’s a lot of work put into it and for them to see the senior team to do well, it motivates them to lift the ball and go down to the pitch.

Success, it’s like keeping the wheels spinning, if the senior team’s doing well the youth will hopefully follow. It was good to see all the youngsters when we were bringing the cup down and obviously getting photos with the players, so that was really good.

Walking down from the chapel to the club that night, you’ll never forget that”.

While Maghery failed to retain their title in 2017, despite reaching the decider, that experience will stand to them coming into the new season.

“I still wake up the odd night… I don’t think, if I win another six or seven championships, I’ll still never get over that (losing the 2017 final). If you look back, only for getting beat in that match, I don’t think we would have won this year (2020).

In 2016, Brendy (Haveron), Ciaran Higgins, Ben Crealey and John Mackle all came into the team in the one year and only for them four boys coming in, we were sort in a couple of positions”.

“Them four boys coming in lifted us and gave us a bit of strength in depth. We’re a more experienced team now more so than 2017. If that team now were playing in 2017, we wouldn’t have lost that final. One hundred percent”.