‘We feel we’re the centre of the universe this week’

Five days out from a first county junior football final appearance in 86 years, and Niall McCarthy has landed in Inchigeelagh.
‘We feel we’re the centre of the universe this week’

The two-time All-Ireland-winning Cork hurler has been invited down to the Iveleary clubhouse to offer a few words of motivation prior to training at 8.30pm.

The clock moves to 8.45pm and there’s still no sign of a single cone being laid out.

Bishop John Buckley, Bishop of Cork and Ross, wanders into the front room of the clubhouse and enquires if he has missed training, if he’s mixed up the times.

“No, you’re okay Bishop,” says club chairman Diarmuid O’Riordan. “They’re in the backroom, there, getting a talk.” A native of Inchigeelagh, it is tradition around these parts for the bishop to address the players the week of a Mid Cork final. He’s never had reason to call in the build-up to a county junior final and so is brimming with excitement ahead of the clash with Bandon.

“We feel we’re the centre of the universe this week,” he smiles.

A tumultuous round of applause erupts at the end of the corridor. Bishop Buckley takes that as his cue and heads down to the dressing room to pass on his best wishes.

He keeps it brief, the players filing out onto the pitch within a couple of minutes.

Not since 1929 have Iveleary contested a Cork junior football final. Bandon, as it happens, marked their card on that particular afternoon. Indeed, prior to this summer, Iveleary hadn’t emerged from Mid Cork since 1985.

Chairman Diarmuid O’Riordan was full-back on that occasion. At wing-back was Ted McCarthy, his son Cal will wear the number six shirt tomorrow. In goal was Ger Galvin, his son Shane holding down the right-half-forward berth in the divisional final win over Inniscarra at Kilnamartyra.

‘Iveleary back after 27 years’ is the headline of the 1985 match report framed on the wall. Hanging further down is a polo-shirt signed by each member of the 2012 county-winning U21B football panel.

‘Iveleary end years of pain with title win’ reads the headline of the article clipping above the shirt. 1-14 to 1-7 was the final score against Kildorrery, Cathal Vaughan helping himself to 1-7.

Diarmuid O’Riordan presses his finger to the list of signatures on the polo shirt and proceeds to count the number of players who will be involved at Páirc Uí Rinn this weekend. “There’s nine from that panel. Denis O’Leary was captain that day, but he’s now based in New York. Given how small numbers are here, you’d nearly need every lad between the age of 18 and 35 togging out.

“Most of the lads on the panel are working away in Cork City or further afield. We are counting on them to come back, to stay with the home club.” Selector Tim O’Sullivan says Denis O’Leary hasn’t been the only player lost to foreign shores. “That period from 2005 on hurt us. Lads go where there is work. Look even at the difference between Bandon and Inchigeelagh in economic terms, there is a fierce difference. There is plenty of lush land around Bandon and when you look up the road here, is there much of that?” As well as due service given on the field, O’Sullivan and O’Riordan have held almost every position in the club between them.

“Everybody has to give a hand. Numbers are so small, that you are going to be called upon at some stage. There’s a duty on you to oblige and give back,” remarks the chairman.

Outside, a few of the local diehards have gathered to watch training. Tom Creedon, captain and the provider of 1-1 in the Mid Cork triumph of 1985, has cycled down and is easily picked out by his high-visibility jacket.

Present-day captain Patrick O’Riordan, having stayed back in the clubhouse to chat with Niall McCarthy, jogs out to join his team-mates. He won’t be starting this weekend. Introduced as a “token substitution” in the closing minutes of games where they have been comfortable, his season was effectively ended when incurring knee ligament damage in a league game against Kilmichael earlier this season.

He’s one of three O’Riordan brothers on the panel. Throw in the McSweeney brothers, Ger and Finbarr, the O’Learys, Sean and Barry, the Jones’, Kevin and Chris, the Murphys, Barry and Brian, and the Hourihanes, Kevin and David, and you get the sense of unity which defines this squad.

“There is a togetherness in this team. It is unbelievable and I have never experienced it before,” insists panellist and club secretary Ger McSweeney.

He, along with goalkeeper Jamie Cronin, is now in his 18th season donning the red and white at junior level.

“Jamie and I sat together in the dressing room in Ballingeary in 1998 when we both started our first championship game for the juniors against Kilnamartyra. We would have a few pints around Christmas each year and we ask each other will we go back for one more. It is a good laugh, it keeps us young. We have seen the bad years. You could say we have played with better, more talented teams, but there is something different about this team. We can have the craic at training, while still putting it in. Before, there were cliques, as you would get in every team. But the spirit in this team is so strong.” That togetherness is also reflected in the wider parish, according to McSweeney. He sees no separation between club and community. Take the four-day Inchigeelagh festival as a case in point. Revived in 2010, the mid-August event draws around €15,000 into the club coffers each year.

“For this year’s festival, I was in charge of managing the volunteers, in charge of who does the stewarding, who helps in bars and who does other jobs. Over three nights, we had 110 volunteers and they were all local. My sister helped out, everyone’s mother and father on the team helped out. Everyone is contributing to the club, to the community. My best feeling ever, and I am sure most of the lads will agree, was coming off the field above in Mourneabbey after winning the semi-final replay against Ballyclough. We warmed down at the far end of the pitch and there is a long walk back to the dressing room. Our supporters waited for us on the banks and they clapped us back into the dressing room. It was the best feeling ever. We had no cup, no silverware. That was the first time that the community was at one. It was incredible.

“Sure, a few of them got together in the Briar Rose pub last Sunday night and wrote a song for tomorrow. Hopefully it will be heard on the way back to Inchigeelagh.”

Tomorrow:

Cork JAFC final: Bandon v Uibh Laoire, Páirc Uí Rinn, 1.30pm.

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