Cappamore still moving on up

AS Cappamore and Charleville ready themselves for battle in Sunday’s Munster Club JHC final, there is one uncanny parallel between them, as outlined by Cappamore player/coach Seamus Coffey.

“We’ve had a hectic few weeks,” said Seamus.

“Three county finals against Kilmallock — the first match abandoned, the second match a draw, and finally to get it right in the third match, then the Munster semi-final next day. It’s been tough going! But Charleville have had it tough as well, they played three county finals themselves, the draw and replay against Mayfield and then back to play the delayed north Cork final with both titles on the line, so we have something in common.”

There, however, the parallels end. While Charleville did win two IHC back-to-back in the mid-1940s, went on to campaign with honour at senior ranks for a few years, they have mostly been a junior club.

Cappamore, however, were long a serious force in Limerick hurling and at one stage, in the 1950s, a dominant club, winning three of their five senior titles. Manager of that team was Jimmy ‘Butler’ Coffey, centenarian and former Tipperary All-Ireland senior hurling medallist who died late last year — Seamus isn’t just his namesake, he is also his grandson, and thus steeped in Cappamore hurling history.

For Seamus then, for Cappamore GAA, finding themselves competing at junior level in Limerick was something of a comedown, and seen as such.

“Definitely it was, yes. It was only a eight or nine years ago we were still competing strongly at senior — in 2002 we played Adare in a Limerick county quarter-final and ran them closer than anyone that year, when they were at the peak of their powers, retained their county title.

“Things fell apart after that; we went down intermediate, got to an intermediate semi-final but never built on that. There was a change of management and a few players retired before their time, when they still had plenty to offer — one disastrous year and we ended up down junior.

“We had nothing at the time to fill the gap but we’ve had a few lads coming through now, the likes of John Ryan, Conor Sheehan, Damien Shanahan, they’re all U21 and they’ve made a difference.”

Winning their way back up to intermediate was the first goal, and with that eventual win over Kilmallock’s second team last Saturday, that has been achieved.

Munster? Even though they were guaranteed to represent Limerick regardless of what happened against Kilmallock (only a club’s first team can play in the provincial championship), their Munster semi-final against Waterford champions Ballinameela last Sunday left them at a place they hadn’t bargained for.

“Winning the county was our main objective,” Seamus explained.

“We had the possibility of two finals within eight days but the most important one to win was last Saturday, the county final. If we were going off to Mallow to play a Munster junior final having lost to Kilmallock, not playing intermediate next year, that would have been a disaster. There would have been no appetite for the Munster final game — what’s the value in winning that if you’re not champions in your own county?”

That win, however, changed everything. “We can look to the Munster final now with real ambition. There’s a massive hunger for success in Cappamore. It’s been nearly 40 years since we won a county title; we’ve done that, and now we have an opportunity to build on it.”

Already this year both Limerick champions Na Piarsaigh (senior) and Effin (intermediate) have defied the odds in Munster and been crowned champions; far from putting them under any extra pressure, reckons Seamus — Cappamore’s sub-keeper — this gives them extra incentive, an extra belief.

“We take great encouragement from that, and from Blackrock winning the All-Ireland junior championship two years ago. The real pressure on us was to win the county championship, and the fact that it dragged on for so long didn’t help, but that pressure is off now. We know we can deliver, and we’ll be trying to do it again next Sunday. We have no problems playing in Mallow — it’s a bit of a distance from us but it’s a great venue, great facilities, great pitch. Admittedly we have to pass through Charleville on the way but sure, victors or vanquished, we might stop there for a drink on the way home!”

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