Within sight of Cork’s mountain top

They’ll share a pot of tea on Sunday night, eat dinner together most evenings and hop into the car every Tuesday and Friday to complete the 130km round spin to training. Rarely though, if ever, is football discussed.

Within sight of Cork’s mountain top

Carbery Rangers pair John Hayes and John O’Rourke have been on a parallel line to the hype and excitement that has gripped the West Cork village this week as they build up to their first county senior final appearance in 108 years. Mind you, neither are complaining.

The team’s spiritual leaders have been more than content to “hide” away from the build-up in Cork city. Conversing with the village’s elder statesmen as to how they will curb the influence of Patrick Kelly and Sean Kiely doesn’t figure on their agenda.

29-year old Hayes was a project engineer for SWS Energy in Bandon, but when Bord Gáis acquired the business, he was forced to relocate to the city, taking work with Canadian firm Brookfield Renewable Power. Living on the Old Blackrock road, a second Rosscarbery footballer arrived on his doorstep earlier this year.

Two Cork footballers, two team-mates living in each others pocket. Every training, gym session, challenge, league and championship match attended together. A recipe for disaster, surely?

“John and I understand when you are in the house you don’t discuss football. You need a mental break from it and we both get that,” explains Hayes.

“I am lucky enough I am living up in Cork because it is much more low key here. I can hide away a little from the hype and build-up below in Rosscarbery. Lads have to be sensible they don’t get dragged into every conversation. You can see there is an incredible buzz in the place, as you expect when we haven’t been there in living memory. All the man on the street wants to talk about is the game. Fellas are sensible in that they will be polite, but won’t get dragged into it.

“There is a good few of us up here in the city so we share the spins down to training. During the summer we might meet up in the city if there is a long gap between our last and next championship game. John is living in the house now and it is good to have another footballer under the roof.

“Football is discussed very sporadically in the house. You have to get away from it, take a mental break from it. It can’t be all football all the time. Certainly you aren’t going to win the match by talking about it above in the house 24/7. We try and talk about other stuff.”

22-year old O’Rourke has enjoyed an excellent summer in the three-toned shirt, revelling in the close-knit nature of the group.

When matters Cork weren’t working out, the Rosscarbery field became his escape. Withdrawn at half-time in the Munster final hammering to Kerry, the afternoon is a blur for O’Rourke. Determined to swiftly erase his below-par showing from the memory bank, he was the first man on the pitch for Carbery Rangers training the following Tuesday evening.

“The Munster final personally was a big disappointment and tough to take. It was hard for everyone in the county to take,” he says. “I went back training with Ross on the Tuesday and my form picked up straight away. I felt great coming away from that session. Even when we lost to Mayo it was great to be able come back to Ross training. I have two brothers on the panel and we do have great craic. You are playing with friends and family. I am living in Cork now with John. We stick together. We go places together. We socialise together and it doesn’t even have to be going drinking, it could be simply having a cup of tea together. We have a lot of young lads on the panel and they have integrated really well. The 17, 18-year olds would be part of the craic in the dressing room. There is no standoffishness. There is no fear of older players. We are all one unit.

“The last six weeks of football have been the most enjoyable for me in a long, long time. It makes coming down for Cork to training so easy. You hop in a car with the lads and it feels like ten minutes because the journey is so enjoyable.”

As a teenager, O’Rourke recalls watching Carbery Rangers climb Cork’s football ladder. Senior status was achieved at the tail end of 2005, two years after their long wait for junior glory was ended.

John Hayes, then 17, made his junior debut in 2002. Carbery Rangers were favourites to gain promotion to the intermediate ranks. In the fourth round, Tadhg MacCarthaigh’s upset the apple cart. A miserable evening in Skibbereen.

“I remember people saying Ross wouldn’t win anything for a long time,” recounts Hayes.

Added manager Michael O’Sullivan: “That defeat was pretty heavy to take. I was in my late 20s at that stage. I was thinking it is time to get off the pot kind of thing. Is this going to keep happening? I started playing junior in 1994 and now 10 years on we were still junior.”

“We clicked in 2003 and have been on the go ever since,” smiles Hayes. “We got to the intermediate final in 2004, lost it. Returned in 2005, won it. While we got to senior very quickly after 2003, it took us a while to settle. We are there a long time. We have been knocking at the top table for so long. We still haven’t got to the top table.

“We took the bad beatings at senior and kept coming back. To give up was never an option. We came back each time because we love playing football down here. The goal was always to get to the top. We’ve never been closer.”

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