When you see the older lads with tears in their eyes, it brings it home fairly fast what it all means

It’s been one of the GAA’s most enlightening innovations, the introduction of a provincial and All-Ireland element to junior county championships. It also throws up fixtures like tomorrow’s Munster Junior Hurling final between Knockshegowna and Kilworth. Diarmuid O’Flynn explains.

IS IT the most romantic club championship of them all?

Last Sunday Toomevara beat Erin’s Own in the Munster club SHC final with household names on both sides; tomorrow Tipp meet Cork again, but it’s Knockshegowna against Kilworth, in the Munster Club Junior Hurling final in Bruff.

Knockshegowna, Kilworth? Even within those tiny rural parishes, who would ever have thought they would see this day, representing their counties in a provincial final? Certainly not Ger Brennan, 25 years a Knockshegowna player at adult level, now team manager.

“We’re only one-third of a parish, in the parish of Shinrone in Offaly. The corner of that parish is in Tipperary, that’s Ballingarry, they have a club of their own, and we’re separate from that again. The whole place has only about a radius of two-and-a-half miles, a tiny place, a dot really. We have no national school in the place, no post office, no shop, but we have a church and two pubs.” The two religions catered to, at least.

“As for marquee names, well we have Ray Killeen, won an All-Ireland intermediate with Tipperary in 2000, corner-forward, he’s 30. We also have Declan Costello, Michael Kennedy, subs on minor panels over the years, and Graham Gohery was on the vocational schools team with North Tipp and Borrisokane, they won an All-Ireland. Not too many big names, but it’s a good team.”

Good history too, despite it’s size. “We were founded in 1934 and won the junior a fair bit through the years, about eight North Tipp divisional titles. We went intermediate in the 60s, won two North titles, back to junior, won again, then won three county juniors, 1969, 1993 and this year.”

Were they ever expecting to be in a Munster club final though? “It’s one of the best ideas the GAA has come up with in years,” says Ger. “For a place like this to be contesting a Munster final is unbelievable stuff. We were in the final last year as well, beaten by Fr O’Neill’s of Cork by seven points, but we had already been beaten in our own divisional final and county final, so things weren’t great going into it. It’s different this year, we’ve won the two finals (divisional and county), lads are hurling with more confidence.”

What of Kilworth’s participation? Again, there’s romance in the air. “It’s a brilliant idea,” says manager Pat Greehy, again a former player with the club. “Once you’ve celebrated winning your own county, come back down to earth, the carrot of a Munster championship, possibly an All-Ireland final, is absolutely fantastic. A lot of teams make the mistake of just having challenge matches within their own county but we went to Kilkenny this year, played Mullinavat intermediate team. They were short several regulars, gave us a good auld runner but it was a great experience, an eye-opener, real Kilkenny hurling. You had to stand up to them or be swept away. It’s great to get out like that and meet teams from other counties, meet different styles of play. Our main goal at the start of the year was to win the county, and we did that, but once things open up in front of you then you try to go on as far as you can. It’s a new thing for us, to represent our county. The county final was a heart-stopper — I don’t think anything prepared us for the onslaught that came our way from Dungourney that night. They were fantastic, you couldn’t but feel sorry for them afterwards. We had been in that position the year before, lost the final; they had given it their all and for 58 minutes they looked like winners. There was no sign of what was to come, but it was just in those last five minutes that we made the breakthrough.”

Added the Kilworth manager: “We have a good blend of youth and experience, the likes of Damien McNamara and Will Twomey at the back, then Adrian Mannix and Paulie Lynch, Elton Pierce up front, the kind of guys you need in every line. But this is real club championship down at this level, completely local, it’s heart on your sleeve all the time. It’s very rural, runs deep, probably deeper than anywhere else. It’s a religion really, handed down for generations. When you win a county after being out of it for decades, see the older lads with tears in their eyes, that kind of thing, it brings things home to you fairly fast what it means. Especially in a county like Cork, where it’s so tough to win one, and after coming so close so often over the years, you begin to wonder, Jesus are we ever going to do it?

“That night against Dungourney that’s what was going through my mind for the first 58 minutes: are we ever going to break this hoodoo?

“Even in North Cork, we had fierce battles against Doneraile — a coming team — Fermoy and Charleville. The county junior is tough, murder to win it, but all the more satisfying for that. Now it’s like a weight lifted off the shoulders, we can concentrate on this in the knowledge that our names go into the hat for the intermediate championship draw for next year.”

A couple of centuries ago Eddie Spencer, who lived in Doneraile, wrote his acclaimed Fairie Queen. The Queen in question was from Knockshegowna — Cnoc Sí Úna, Una from the hill of the fairies.

Tomorrow, the hurlers from that part-parish, from Kilworth in Cork, will try continue writing their own fairytale. So far, it’s been an excellent read.

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