The hard yards that paid off for Carrig

THE easy cliche about Sunday’s county final win by Carrigtwohill — so easy we’ve thrown it out a few times already — is that it offers a template to other clubs in Cork looking to achieve the same level of success.

Beyond the immediate romance, however, is the slow, step by step progress to the top table.

Carrigtwohill didn’t become everybody’s darlings by copyrighting the underdogs tag. They won the Cork county senior title through hard work.

Appointing a manager was one key part of the jigsaw. They deliberated on the manager they needed and felt James O’Connor fitted the bill. He had inter-county experience as a player with Waterford, but crucially he had also handled that county’s U21s, so he was familiar with best practice.

And he repaid that faith when he and his management team isolated what they needed to do to improve upon their showing in the county semi-final against Midleton.

Although they got over the line, O’Connor and company felt the Carrigtwohill forwards weren’tworking hard enough when theopposition had the ball, and thatmessage was hammered home to them before the decider against CIT.

The attackers accepted that and worked harder than ever against the students, with Niall McCarthy making two spectacular blocks and an outstanding flick away from CIT’s Aidan Walsh at a crucial stage in the second half.

The players’ acceptance of management, as evidenced above, was another key ingredient. Carrig captain Mickey ‘Da’ Fitzgerald spoke freely at the club press night ahead of the final about the players’ inclination to over-celebrate in the past, and how they had resolved to knuckle down this year to see what they could achieve.

With James O’Connor routinely arriving for training three-quarters of an hour before the allotted time, the players responded with huge commitment.

O’Connor himself had mentioned before the game that he was keen for the players not to get too hyped up because last Sunday was a county final — the occasion was for family and supporters, he said, rather than the participants.

His calming approach paid off, too: it was significant last Sunday that Carrigtwohill finished the game on the edge rather than starting it in a frenzy.

They played calmly in the opening 10 minutes and had three points on the board while CIT were amassing wides at the other end.

The real dividend from that calm approach came after CIT’s 13th minute goal: instead of dropping their heads, Carrig counterattacked.

Within three minutes Mickey Fitzgerald had equalised and then restored Carrig’s one-point lead.

The assumption could be made now that Carrigtwohill are sitting ducks in the Munster club championship, but that might be a little hasty.

They face the Clare champions next month but that game will be at a Cork venue, while in other counties, the fancied sides — those with experience of Munster club campaigns — have been falling by the wayside, like De La Salle in Waterford, Thurles Sars in Tipp. The prospect of a Munster club title was aired in the Carrig bus as it trundled east from Páirc Uí Chaoimh last Sunday, the Seán Óg Murphy Cup safely stowed away.

They still have obstacles to overcome, such as the absence of long-term injury victims Brian Lordan and Jason Barrett, while two of the starting defenders are due to go overseas in the coming weeks.

The sheer joy of winning a county title after a wait of almost a century needs expression, too: celebrations in this context aren’t an optional extra.

But it would be foolish to write off Carrig in the provincial series. They have been underdogs in two of their last three games, and the heavy going underfoot in Páirc Uí Chaoimh didn’t infect their play too much — a very encouraging sign when pitches will be getting heavier rather than lighter in the coming weeks.

Whether they win in Munster or not, their great legacy may be one taken on board by other clubs in Cork, clubs which will be asking themselves one simple question this morning: why not us?

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