Bernie has that master vision

CORK versus Clare in the Munster SHC semi-final this Sunday, televised game from Thurles, and with it a singular honour for Newtownshandrum, one of the smallest parishes in Cork County, perhaps in the entire country.

Along with county champions Blackrock they sit atop the club panel representative list with four, supplying Pat Mulcahy at full-back, Ben O’Connor at right-half-forward on the

starting side and sub-keeper Paul Morrissey and Ben’s twin brother Gerry covering for both midfield and attack.

A proud day too for Bernie O’Connor, not just because he’s the father of the twins but because, purely in a hurling sense, he was also the patriarch and guiding figure behind the rest of those lads, coached and managed the Newtown team that won three U21 Premier County titles in a row, directed the team to an intermediate title while most were still in their teens, then steered the club to its first senior county title in 2000.

No one knows those players better, no one will be more proud of them this Sunday.

Said Bernie: “Hurling has always been strong in Newtown, always had good players, but county selectors didn’t come too far out the country over the years.

"With the city clubs not as strong as they used to be their hand was forced to a degree, and Newtown having won a senior county so recently, they had to have some representation on the team.

“Those who are there are well worth their places. These fellas are dedicated, there’s nothing too much for them.

"You travel to Cork two or three nights a week, try and fit in a bit with the club as well, it’s tough going, but they’re dedicated to it. I’ve never heard any complaints anyway, it’s head down, arse up, the only way.”

Goalkeeper Paul Morrissey is, he feels, a little unlucky not to be starting. “I’ve been saying for years he’s the best keeper in the county but I’m a bit biased. Certainly, if there’s anyone better it’s the man that’s there, Donal Óg.”

Pat Mulcahy too is another worthy, but here Bernie expressed a little surprise. “I always said that Pat Mulcahy was the rock on which I built the Newtown team and that never changed, was especially true the year we won the county senior.

“A couple of years ago when he made his championship debut, the defeat against Limerick, he’d been suspended for a month beforehand and was dropped in at the deep end.

“Now it goes wrong for all of us on some occasions and it went wrong for Pat on the day. He was crucified for it afterwards. He didn’t deserve that because in my book he’s the best club centre-back in the county, has been for a few years.

“I’m a bit surprised to see him as a full-back. He went there at the start of the year, had his problems, but the kind of player he is, he never gives up, kept doing his best. Eventually he got to know how to play the position and now he’s an automatic there.

“A great boost to his confidence was that when Diarmuid O’Sullivan came back he wasn’t dropped straight into his old position.

"Everybody, including I’d say Pat himself, felt he was just keeping the spot warm for Diarmuid. But when he came back Pat was left at number three, and that did his confidence a power of good.

“It suits Cork to have Pat at full-back because he’s not as reckless as O’Sullivan. Pat knows when he’s beaten to the ball, he can stand back and cover, that’s one of his strengths.”

As for his own two sons, well, an understandable reluctance to be drawn over-much.

Suffice to say that if Bernie had his druthers (and there are many who, given his spectacular record with a variety of teams, would have seen him appointed to the Cork job), both would be playing.

“Growing up, it was all down to attitude, and they had the right attitude, that has stood to them.

"Ben is a top-class finisher, but Gerry has a terrific engine, would run all day, does a great job coming through from midfield in support of the ball.

"If I was in charge of the team Gerry would be at centre-forward, Ben in the corner, and there would be thought put into every ball, we would be playing a totally different style of hurling.”

Of late, there has been a tendency to replace one with the other and while Bernie is delighted to see Gerry getting a run and hopes to see him on the field at some stage on Sunday, he’s not at all happy at that turn of events.

“I’ve seen that, if one is coming off he’s replaced by the other which I think is totally wrong. If Ben isn’t doing it, bring in Gerry, it’s becoming a bit predictable now too.”

To those who have followed the fortunes of Newtownshandrum over the years, one quality always stood out and that was their battling spirit.

Most predictable this Sunday is that when the going gets toughest in a contest that is sure to be white-hot, none of the Newtown contingent will be found wanting.

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