At the same time, they weren’t really punishing us up at the other end, so there was always a chance
The exhalation of relief at the final whistle spoke more eloquently than anything that had gone before. For Castlehaven, this was a Cork football final to be won, a pressure-cooker experience to survive.
As man-of-the-match Mark Collins articulated afterwards, hard though the team management tried, it’s impossible to cocoon players from the significance of this occasion.
Football is so important to the community around the West Cork parish that the prospect of successive county final defeats was nigh unthinkable.
It was the appalling vista they were facing, nonetheless, as the final ticked over into its 58th minute at Páirc Uí Chaoimh yesterday. Castlehaven hadn’t led since the opening seconds of the decider and Jack Cott’s point for Duhallow edged them 0-8 to 0-7 ahead of 14-man Haven.
Mark Collins had claimed their only two points of the second period — class scores they were too — but he was about to make an unwitting contribution far more significant than either of those scores.
Cutting in from the left wing, his point attempt was always dropping short. Fortunately for him, substitute Shane Nolan’s reactions were sharper than Duhallow keeper Kevin Murphy’s to write his name with capital letter in Castlehaven’s history. From mascot for the 1994 Championship-winning side to match-winner 18 years later, it’s been some journey for Nolan, son of Haven stalwart Jim. Like a number of his colleagues, Shane has been encouraged back to his paternal homestead from another club (Valley Rovers) last year. It’s one of the life-support mechanisms Castlehaven have to employ to stay competitive.
Another is their resilience, and they needed it in spades yesterday to claim their fourth Andy Scannell Cup and a first since 2003. In bigger picture terms, it was as poor a final as regulars could remember, featuring two fearful outfits more intent on avoiding defeat than claiming victory. It’s the way of gaelic football these days, sadly.
Castlehaven spluttered into life occasionally, but for the greater part of a pedestrian final in front of 6,170 followers, they played second fiddle to a marginally better outfit in Ned English’s Duhallow.
What proved crucial was Damien Cahalane’s handling of Donncha O’Connor. Whereas the Cork attacker had quarter-backed the division to victory over Douglas and Skibbereen, he was afforded no such latitude in the final. Cahalane was called by referee Pat O’Leary for an early tug on O’Connor, but thereafter he harried him down blind alleys and into the sort of traffic O’Connor doesn’t like.
It meant Duhallow were limited in the use of their attacking pivot, though midfielders Aidan Walsh and the effective Bertie O’Callaghan kept them on top for most of the first half.
When they did release the handbrake — which was seldom — Castlehaven looked to Brian Hurley and Mark Collins to threaten up front, but too often their efforts were smothered.
It took a long range free from Damien Cahalane to keep momentum going, Brian Hurley adding another immediately to tie the final up at 0-4 apiece three minutes before the break.
Donncha O’Connor found himself dropping deeper to get on the ball, but when given a half-sight of the posts just before the break, he pointed with some style. Again Castlehaven responded; Collins taking a pass from Sean Dineen to send the sides in level at the break (0-5 each).
Was it asking too much for either side to go for broke after the interval? Apparently so. They shared a mere four points in 26 minutes, but midway through the second-half, there were two potentially decisive moments. O’Connor and Collins swapped points before Haven wing-back Chris Hayes was red-carded for a second bookable offence, tripping Padraig O’Leary. However, rather than push on with the extra man, Duhallow persisted in playing Donal Gayer deeper than midfield in a mopping up role.
Two minutes later (the 45th minute), Donncha O’Connor had his first clear sight of goal, but shot weakly at Paudie Hurley. Duhallow’s Niall Fleming was there to mop up the rebound but inexplicably from a couple of yards, fisted wide.
Did the sending off actually help Castlehaven? It’s a moot point. Suddenly the expectation of success was less. They reverted to a two-man attack, Brian Hurley and Mark Collins, and tackled behind midfield like dervishes. In essence, they sacrificed possession and hung on for dear life.
Matthew Dilworth edged Duhallow in front on 48 minutes, but three minutes later Mark Collins chased a ball into the corner and turned sow’s ear into silk purse with a marvellous point. Level again at 0-7 apiece with nine minutes left.
As Castlehaven dropped deeper, Ballydesmond’s Bertie O’Callaghan grew in prominence, but Duhallow couldn’t get Donncha O’Connor in space to pull the trigger. Substitute Jack Cott pointed but before they had time to settle, Shane Nolan was readying a new script.
“I thought it was just slipping away when we got the goal,” Nolan admitted. “At the same time, they weren’t really punishing us up at the other end, so there was always a chance.”
Castlehaven have had their share of last-minute upsets down the years so once Nolan’s goal afforded them sight of the promised land, they bounded for freedom, though there were a couple of half-scares. Again it was Donncha O’Connor, but once more it was a half-chance on his left foot that was too high to bother Paudie Hurley.
Winning ugly is an art in itself, and if this was Castlehaven’s least fluent display of the championship, games won in the trenches have a special appeal too. You can draw on those experiences down the road. They’ll rattle the Munster Club championship now but yesterday was all about gritting it out. The Castlehaven’s creed? The only losers are the ones who give up trying.
Scorers for Castlehaven: M. Collins (0-3), S. Nolan (1-0), B. Hurley (0-2), D. Cahalane (0-1 (free), S. Cahalane (0-1).
Scorers for Duhallow: D. O’Connor (0-4, two frees), P. O’Leary, A. Walsh, N. Fleming, M. Dilworth, J. Cott (0-1 each).
Subs for Castlehaven: M. Cahalane for Burns (38); S. Hurley for A. Cahalane (43); S. Nolan for S Hurley (45).
Subs for Duhallow: J. Cott for Holland (46); N. O’Sullivan for Fleming (57); K. Buckley for Murphy (60).
Blood sub: S. O’Sullivan for A Walsh (37-40) Referee: P. O’Leary (Kilmurry).