You come up past the church on your left (St Fachtna’s, open) and the pub (Murphy’s, closed) and sweep down past the arts centre, and you are in the Adrigole GAA grounds suddenly.
It’s one of those stunning vistas along the west coast which has a playing field — dressing-rooms, pitch markings and goalposts — right in the middle of the postcard, and yesterday the venue in farthest west Cork hosted the Beara junior football final.
This meant the pitch had the hum of industry about it, decibel levels rising and falling like motes in a sunbeam as the final preparations were made for Urhan to take on Garnish.
It was a big day for the local outfit as well. Adrigole were celebrating the intermediate county title they collected 40 years ago, when they beat Kildorrery in a shining-new Pairc Ui Chaoimh. The players are a little greyer and a little heavier, but recognisable from the big photograph in the community hall, and they got a warm reception when introduced to the crowd before the game.
Commemoration sparks introspection, maybe. The surroundings — sun-splashed, whitewashed — were evidence of a vibrant club, and the evidence comes in human capital as well as fixtures and fittings. Every club in Ireland feels it’s part of the fabric of the community, but how many can make the same claim as Adrigole?
Vice-chairman Michael Joe O’Sullivan could show off the new gym and the astroturf facility, but he could also point to the family resource centre on the club premises which employs seven people, as well as the Caha Childcare centre on the other side of the dressing rooms. Everything that goes on in the neighbourhood orbits the playing field, with its benign gravitational pull.
Even a bright sun casts shadows, however. Sparkling beyond the far goal was the sea, and one Adrigole clubman murmured over the plentiful sandwiches that the Atlantic means trouble for any club within sight of it.
The proximity of the sea is an indicator that the club is bound to struggle for numbers, as younger members set their sights east once they hit the late teens, with college and work pressing concerns.
The dividing line was around Kealkill to our east, added the same man. Even though it too is a small village, someone working in Cork could plausibly live there and play for St Colum’s, the local club in that village, but any further to the west and commuting to and from the city simply wasn’t sustainable.
Those in Adrigole for the game were acting rather than complaining, however. People in attendance for the game were also being tapped up to contribute to the strategic review being carried out the Beara Board this autumn, a review which aims to form the basis of a strategic plan for the years ahead.
The review has the potential to collect opinions far from the peninsula itself: yesterday’s game was broadcast by Bere Island Community Radio to those far from home, and it was easy to imagine emigres long gone listening to the midfield tussles of O’Sullivans and O’Dwyers in Boston or Melbourne, and deciding to chip in with their views on how Beara might continue and thrive.
For Urhan and Garnish, concerns about numbers and participation are as pressing as anywhere along the western seaboard, but yesterday there was a cup at stake, divisional honours, bragging rights: targets familiar to clubs and counties everywhere in the country, even if the setting for most of those decisions is no match for Adrigole’s picturesque sweep.
The backstory? Urhan were looking for a first title since 2015, but Garnish were on the brink of an unprecedented fourth title in a row, so already it had the makings of a classic GAA story with recognisable characters.
A pretty experienced Garnish side which knew how to win, and a younger Urhan team in a hurry for silverware.
We even had the requisite sprinkling of stardust, with former Cork icon Ciaran O’Sullivan up and down the line as an Urhan selector, while Croke Park on All-Ireland final day, next weekend, is an upcoming port of call for one of the Garnish subs. (No, the islanders didn’t have a team so potent they could afford an inter-county minor on the bench; Cork minor selector Ollie O’Sullivan was number 20 in green and gold).
The beautiful weather lent itself to expansive football, and the game was end to end in the first half. Urhan had the upper hand, leading 0-6 to 0-5 at the break (after hitting eight wides as well) but Garnish were well in contention, rangy Brian T O’Sullivan hitting two fine points from long range.
After half-time the game loosened out considerably, and Urhan’s game plan came to the fore.
With Ciaran O’Sullivan a vocal presence urging calm and patience, the men in red retained the ball well and scored the first goal on 45 minutes: man of the match Martin McCarthy popped up on the end of a string of passes to finish low to the net, pushing Urhan 1-9 to 0-8 in front.
If Garnish weren’t as considered in their approach play they weren’t about to lie down either.
Even as McCarthy and powerful sub, Conor Lowney nudged Urhan three clear turning into the closing stages, Garnish hit back. Eanna Murphy surged upfield, won a great ball, and laid it off to Fintan O’Sullivan, who hung it in the roof of the Urhan net. Draw.
Urhan wouldn’t be denied, however.
From the kick-out, Jamie O’Neill made ground down the left before pointing calmly to restore the lead. From then on Urhan’s calmness and patience — as exhorted by C O’Sullivan — saw them home.
They kept possession until deep in injury time, when Lowney rose near the square to flick home a goal any traditionalist full-forward would be proud of.
Afterwards Urhan manager Johnny O’Neill took a break from congratulating his players:
“Where do I start? This means everything — everything. This is what we’ve been building towards for the last couple of years. It was raw today, a battle today, and that’s typical of Garnish.
“They’ll never die, they came out and gave everything despite the injuries they had. But we’ve been building towards this, as I say, for a couple of years.
“The goals were crucial, and they came at the right time, but they’re things we worked on.
“We made mistakes last year and we thought we’d correct them this year, and the dry day helped us. I’m so proud of the players.
“It’s massive for the club and the supporters. We believe in these lads and they did it. Their workrate? That’s down to Ciaran (O’Sullivan), he trained the lads all year and got the fitness levels up, and it showed today.”
When the game ended the cars filed out and away, as usual, but there were plenty of people still in the Adrigole club rooms as your correspondent left.
Some of them were replaying the 1979 final against Kildorrery, and it was clear enough that many of the old alarums and excursions that arose on the way to that title were being reheated.
Others were doing what GAA members all over Ireland were doing yesterday:Directing traffic and gathering flags, replacing divots, reuniting jackets and caps with their owners.
The multiplicity of tasks necessary to produce an occasion like yesterday, the unseen superstructure for a thousand dreams small only to those not big enough to conceive them.
Scorers for Garnish: F O’Sullivan (1-2); ST O’Sullivan (1 free), BT O’Sullivan (0-3 each); J O’Dwyer (0-1).
Scorers for Urhan: M McCarthy (1-3); C Lowney (1-1), J O’Neill ( 2 frees)(0-4); C Harrington (0-2).
GARNISH: R Murphy, D O’Sullivan, E Murphy, B Walsh, Darren Henshaw, H O’Sullivan, M O’Leary, J O’Dwyer, BT O’Sullivan, G O’Sullivan, ST O’Sullivan (c), F O’Sullivan, S Henshaw, C O’Neill, Dean Henshaw.
Subs: O O’Sullivan for S Henshaw (HT); P Murphy for G O’Sullivan (40); J O’Driscoll for M O’Leary (45); E O’Neill for C O’Neill (60).
URHAN: G Dunne, D Elphick, A O’Neill (c), D O’Neill, D McCarthy, M O’Shea, B. Healy, C O’Sullivan, C O’Sullivan, L O’Sullivan, J O’Neill, C O’Shea, C Harrington, M McCarthy, F Dwyer.
Subs: C Lowney for Harrington (35); D Dwyer for L O’Sullivan (51); C Harrington for C O’Shea (60).
Referee: A Long (Argideen Rangers).
Quirke's Final Preview: Kerry's matchups. The Fenton factor. Walsh wildcard. Gough controversy