Hagan all set to tackle 'stand-out team this year'
Starlights are the reason pre-season predictions are so perilous. Promoted for 2014, after winning the previous Intermediate championship, the Bellefield side never got that initial bounce to the top, like St. Martin's, like St. James', and almost like Glynn-Barntown.
In fact, it has been quite the opposite, as they have struggled to make any real impression, culminating in their only win of the season in 2016, against Adamstown in the relegation final, which proved enough to keep them up.
Things needed to be done if Starlights were to be serious contenders. In came Joe Hagan, no stranger to making teams better. His approach was simple in application but it proved ingenious in design.
'Well, going in this year, myself and Purt Doyle (selector), our main focus at the start of the year was to try improve the overall skillset of the players, first and foremost,' admitted Starlights supremo Hagan.
'We were seven points down with a few minutes to go (against Shelmaliers in the first game) and pulled it back to one, and we brought that momentum into the second game against Glynn. And again finished the game very strongly, so initially that is what I was taking from it.
'Throughout those two games you could see the players' skillset was improving, they were getting that bit more confidence in the set-up and also in their own ability. Then we just kept working on the basic skills of the game. I think that manifested itself in the rest of the games that we played.
'We were getting a lot of people saying to us that our overall skill level was quite good. It just boils down to hard work, particularly from the players, and buying into, not really so much a system, just a way of playing that will enable them to perform and show off that skillset to the best of their ability, and they've done that to date.'
The semi-final threw up a familiar opponent, having played Castletown in a one-point round-robin loss. The boys from the Gorey District went into the semi-final as favourites but several shrewd observers had other ideas.
'The turning point for me wasn't so much the second-half, it was getting those two points in the last minute just before the first-half ended,' Hagan said. 'That gave us a bit of belief, instead of being five-one down at half-time with the aid of a breeze we were five-three.
'The players got back to the basics, got back to the way they had been playing, and put in a fantastic performance. I think it was probably our best (of the year), in the second-half of that game. I think it would have shell-shocked Castletown too, it was a completely different performance.'
It's highly likely that Hagan's side will need to reach similar heights in the final on Sunday. Looking on from afar, the Starlights boss has been a keen admirer of the standard of football played by St. Martin's in recent times.
'They will go in as favourites obviously because they have gone through the season unbeaten, even though they have drawn two matches. They are a formidable outfit, they have a depth of talent in the team,' Hagan said.
'But at the same time, we are in the final because we have a belief that we can win this competition. I'm hoping on the day we can have that little bit of luck, that is required to get you over the line in any county final.
'I mean, for me they are the stand-out team this year, I would have said any team that finishes above the Martin's will win the championship and that's the way it will have to be come Sunday.'