The Rebels launched one last-ditch attack to overturn a two-points deficit in injury-time and were rewarded when sub Stephen O’Mahony was on the end of a move to poke a close-range shot to the net.
It was a memorable moment. O’Mahony had already made history when introduced in the 47th minute that afternoon, becoming the first player from Gabriel Rangers to grace the sod of Croke Park. It was a milestone for the West Cork club who draw their players from the villages of Ballydehob and Schull. Club PRO Noel Coakley retired recently as principal in Ballydehob NS and has kept a close eye on O’Mahony’s progress.
He said: “Stephen always showed great promise. Getting on the U16 county squad last year helped his progress and he was outstanding when we won the County U16 C championship as well. Unfortunately Stephen broke his collarbone in a club game in January. That ruled him out for a while but he’s come back strongly. He’s become a big impact sub.”
For a club, still in its infancy, tomorrow in Croke Park represents a special occasion. Coakley provides a quick synopsis of the club’s history.
“There were two separate teams in the parish from Ballydehob and Schull. But playing numbers proved to be a problem — you’d have enough for a team one year and you’d be struggling the next. A big driving force was a young curate called Fr George O’Mahony, who’s now a parish priest in Ballincollig. Mount Gabriel was common to both villages and Gabriel Rangers was formed in 1973.
“There is a hurling tradition and interestingly people from the area have won All-Ireland medals for Cork while playing with other clubs. The Coughlan brothers, John and Dan, played with Glen Rovers. Dan, who died last year, was also a Cork senior selector, while John played with the Civil Service in Dublin in the 50’s, and marked Christy Ring while playing for Leinster in a Railway Cup final. More recently in the 70’s, Tadhg O’Sullivan played with Sarsfields and won All-Ireland minor and U21 medals.”
At club level this has also been a landmark season.
In 1978, Gabriel Rangers were elevated to Junior A football ranks in West Cork but have toiled since in that grade without success. Last Sunday week that barren run was finally ended when they claimed divisional honours against Clann na Gael.
“It was a very special day for us”, says club chairman Luke Nolan. “We lost in the 1979 final to O’Donovan Rossa, in 1983 to Ballinascarthy and in 2005 again to O’Donovan Rossa. It was unbelievable to witness the joy and relief after the game.”
Nolan’s son Pat featured for Cork at minor and U21, and has soldiered for the club junior football side for 22 years. He received the divisional accolade he craved at the age of 39.
“Obviously I was delighted for him. But all the players put in an unbelievable effort. The majority are based in Cork and it’s a 120 miles return journey to Ballydehob. We’ve a county junior quarter-final to look forward to now but the focus is tomorrow in Croke Park. There’s huge interest with Stephen involved. We’ve scraped (tickets) together from places like Tipperary and Belfast to help people. Everyone’s looking forward to it.”