There’s not much border between the hinterlands of Valley Rovers and Newcestown, but it still had to be marked out once the clubs won through to tomorrow’s Cork Premier Intermediate Hurling final.
Where Brinny meets Templemartin, first the red and yellow of Newcestown was sprayed on the road with the message ‘Baile Núis abú’, but it wasn’t long before green and white marking appeared on the other side of the line. With the prize of becoming a dual senior club on offer for tomorrow’s winners at Páirc Ui Rinn, it’s a battle in which nobody can afford to be found wanting.
It’s not a local rivalry in the traditional sense – Innishannon club Valleys are in the Carrigdhoun division while Newcestown are from Carbery – but rather what Paudie Palmer describes as one being rooted in education.
Both parishes share larger borders with Bandon and the second-level education of the 30 likely starters tomorrow is evenly split between two schools in the town, Hamilton High and St Brogan’s. Local radio commentator Palmer, a resident of Innishannon, believes proximity in the classroom provides the sparks.
“When Valley Rovers played Ballinhassig in the semi-final, it was two neighbouring clubs,” he says, “but the rivalry was in the heads of the people who played when they were both in the south-east. There were some Ballinhassig players didn’t know the Valleys players.
“Valleys and Newcestown are in two separate divisions but the rivalry is born out of sitting alongside each other in school and then playing together on those school teams, these guys know each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
“When Brogan’s won the double in 2004, Carthach Keane of Newcestown captained the football team and Valleys’ Brian Canty was the captain of the hurling team. His brother Kevin was the full-forward on both teams. Then, the Hamilton teams which have played in the Harty Cup for the last few years have been backboned by players from Valleys and Newcestown.” Alongside Palmer as Brogan’s enjoyed that banner year in ’04 was former Cork captain Pat Kenneally. A Newcestown stalwart, he coached Valleys to IHC victory in 2009. He feels that rural clubs close to big towns often have – or need – a chip on the shoulder, used to positive effect.
“It’s very easy to make a team have that,” he says. “It’s constantly being instilled and that’s why neither of these teams can afford to be favourites in their minds. There’s no question whatsoever that the clubs have a lot of similarities, it was one of the reasons I went down there.” Kenneally provides just one of many links. The townland of Castlelack is split between the two parishes and, prior to Newcestown establishing a club of their own in December 1958, players like Msgr Kevin O’Callaghan and Kevin Callanan would have played for Valleys. At that first meeting in ’58, national teacher Seán Collins was appointed as Newcestown secretary but later he would move to Innishannon and his son Eamon would be a Valleys star as well as representing Cork.
In 1988, the clubs met in the county JAHC final in Bandon. Current Valleys manager Joe Crowley featured as they won, with Newcestown suffering as Kenneally was injured early on. The aura of that game is one of the primary reasons why journalist Brian Canty, native of Innishannon but now living in Girona in Spain, decided to cycle home for tomorrow’s match, emerging off the ferry at Ringaskiddy yesterday.
“I’ve missed most of Valleys’ finals over the last few years and there have been games against Bandon and Kilbrittain and senior football games too, but this is different,” he says. “We have a video at home of the ’88 final – I was given it by my neighbour Diane Twohig, I was supposed to return it but never did. I watched it so many times and each time the hairs would be standing. The crowd that day was like nothing I’d ever seen before.
“I think Sunday will surpass it and, if not on the field, the next best thing for me is in the stand.” A story from his days playing with ‘the Tech’ encapsulates the Newcestown spirit.
“The thing about it is, when you play with Newcestown players they’re the best team-mates in the world,” he says. “My first ever senior hurling game for the Tech was a game against Causeway up in Knocknagree and our best player was Brian Moloney of Newcestown - he used to wear a red and yellow helmet and always wore the Newcestown socks too.
“I didn’t know him, nor he me, but I remember coming on with a few minutes to go because we were hammering them. I got an awkward belt under a high ball and Moloney ran the field saying he’d kill their player if he did that again.”
Unable to make the trip home is Newcestown’s Hugh Curran, who is based in New Jersey, but that doesn’t mean that he won’t be kept abreast .
“I’ll be listening to the game at home on County Sound [C103], but I’ll also be kept up to speed through group messaging and Snapchats.
“I’ll listen to it alone. I never got nervous playing but when Newcestown play now I’m a bag of nerves , so I’m better off alone, I’d only bite people’s heads off if they tried speaking to me and interrupt the game.
“When you’re not seeing a game for yourself it’s hard to tell from just listening what shape and direction it’s taking, so you’re always fearing the worst. Listening to last year’s final was an awful experience, as was the last seven or eight minutes of this year’s semi-final.” Curran, who has represented New York in senior football, did consider a trans-Atlantic journey but it didn’t come to pass.
“I wanted to head home alright and looked like I would be at one point but it just didn’t work out,” he says. “You hate to miss out on anything like this as you know all the work the lads have put in and they are your best friends so you want to be there to give your support and to hopefully see them succeed.
“GAA is a huge part of everyday life in Newcestown and it means a lot to so many, so it’s a shame to be missing what you’d hope will be a historic day.” Such spirit underpins everything good about the club, but Palmer points out that Valleys have done well to hold on to their soul too in the face of increasing urbanisation.
“In Newcestown, there’s only one primary school and one main public house, which provides a hub for the parish. That really helps to maintain a strong spirit and identity.
“Innishannon hasn’t grown as fast as other places but it has expanded. What has happened, though, is that those that have come in have really contributed, the club still manages to retain a sense of unity and community.” With such similarities, it’s easy to understand why Kenneally can’t make a definitive call.
“It’s no surprise that these two teams are led by players who have experienced success from the age of 14 or 15 onwards and that winners continue to win,” he says. “It does follow through and the character can’t be questioned on either side so it’s very unlikely that you’ll have a one-sided game. Maybe Newcestown are a year ahead in our development but I can’t see more than a point or two being in it either way.”