That’s something to be discussed next Monday: how was it a divisional title was decided on a windy December afternoon in Donoughmore almost 10 years ago?
Marc Sheehan was the Aghabullogue chairman then. He explains the reasons for the delay: “We beat Ballingeary in Macroom in the Mid-Cork semi-final, but because Tom Kenny of Grenagh was hurling for Cork, who went on to win the All-Ireland that year, there was a bit of a blockage on the other side of the draw. We were nominated to represent Muskerry in the county.”
That worked out pretty well for Aghabullogue. They beat Tadhg MacCarthaighs, Bride Rovers and, in the county final, they put Adrigole to the sword under lights in Páirc Uí Rinn.
By then it was November, and they were ready for the Munster campaign. They eventually reached the provincial final, but as Sheehan puts it, “the Muskerry time bomb” was ticking away behind them.
“The date with destiny was December 5,” he says. “It was a huge day, a huge game for us, trying to win our first Mid-Cork football title. Would winning that have been more of a kick than winning the county itself? Possibly. The first game of football in the club was only played in 1966, after all.”
Three or four people had driven football in Aghabullogue. The late Ted McSweeney, originally from Inniscarra, Sean Reihill, originally of Fermanagh, Peter Underhill and, unusually, a Kilkenny man — Johnny Buckley from Moneenroe, near Castlecomer, one of the few football hotbeds in that county (“With a small h,” adds Sheehan). December 5 2004 in Donoughmore was the culmination of all their work.
“The crowd was massive,” says Sheehan.
The game wasn’t a classic. Brendan Barry-Murphy, now the club PRO, was a panellist. “It was very tense, there was a lot at stake for us, but there was more to it than just the occasion.
“We’d been playing with freedom in the county series, having been nominated by Muskerry, so if you like we were treating those games almost like practice games, and playing freer than would be usual for championship matches.
“When we had to come back for Grenagh, then, there would have been a question mark over what we’d done all year if we’d lost that day.
“The disappointment would have been huge. If it had happened the normal way, if you like, it would have been different — it would have been a huge aim of ours for years to simply contest a Mid-Cork final, but when you had something won that you wanted to hold onto, that made it very different. We were conscious of all of that.
“It was so late in the year, then... by the time it came to December 5, the weather had deteriorated, the pitches were heavy — though in fairness, for the time of the year, the surface in Donoughmore was good that day — and there was a gale-force wind going down the field, blowing right into the dressing room end.”
Sheehan agrees: “There was a lot of tension, Brendan is right in saying the conditions were reasonably good but it was a tough game all the same. A grind-it-out win. We held on, but it was close.”
It couldn’t have been closer. The game — Aghabullogue’s entire season — boiled down to a few crucial plays as the clock ran down. “I could walk you through it,” laughs Barry-Murphy.
“In the first half, Paul O’Rourke got a great goal for us, and that put us a couple of points ahead at the break.
“We played into the wind in the second half but actually did better, as teams often do. With the game nearly over, then, the teams were level and we got a free late on, very scoreable.”
It looked all over for Grenagh, but the game provided one last twist.
“John Hogan was taking the free for us and Mark Kenny from Grenagh blocked it — some of our lads were saying he encroached, but if he did, then more power to him — and they got the ball upfield and got it to DD Dorgan. When we saw that we were thinking, ‘oh no, here we go’, we thought he’d surely point it, he was close enough to goal to get it over.”
Aghabullogue survived, however. Corner-back Sean Twomey defended Dorgan well, shepherding him to the wing and cutting down on the angle. When Dorgan managed to get a shot off, it dropped into keeper David Moynihan’s hands and he set Aghabullogue on attack.
“We got the ball upfield,” says Barry-Murphy.
“It broke to Declan Kiely about 30 yards out and he put over a great score. You could see the Grenagh heads dropping and the place lifted with the noise.”
Sheehan hasn’t forgotten that last dramatic play either: “I can see it in my mind’s eye still, it was a long, high shot that seemed to be in the air forever, but it slotted over. It was near enough to the end, and we were able to hold out.”
Naturally, Barry-Murphy is hoping history repeats itself tomorrow.
“It’s been a surprise that we’ve gotten this far. I’ve no doubt that at the start of the year if you’d asked the other intermediate teams what side they’d like to play in the championship to preserve their status in the grade, they’d have picked us.
“It’d be phenomenal if we could do it. There’s been a great buzz around the parish and it would give everything a lift. We’re up against it but we’re hoping it goes our way.”
Nine years on, a similar result would fit the bill for Aghabullogue nicely.