After a county semi-final appearance in 1999, the last four was a port not reached again until 2014, many campaigns showing one encouraging performance not built on.
That trend has been reversed, with Sunday’s final against Carbery Rangers, a second in three years.
Midfielder Ciarán O’Sullivan cites the influence of one of the 2014 management team, the late Eric Philpott, as key in ensuring the potential manifested itself on the field.
“Eric was mad about this potential thing, saying: ‘ye have great potential but ye need to fulfil it’,” he says.
“He probably shoved it down our throats, we had to bring it out of ourselves as a team. Eventually, the message sinks — everyone has good players but it’s all about performing on the day. That’s what we focused on.”
O’Sullivan is part of a select band of Ballincollig players with county medals at senior and U21 levels. In 2009, having won 16 previous Mid-Cork titles, the club managed to go all the way, driven by the memory of going so close at minor level.
“Noel Galvin, Liam Jennings, Ian Coughlan and Darren Murphy were on it,” he says. “I think we won 16 Mid-Corks and it was the first time we had done it as a club. The big thing for that team was, three years previous, we got to the minor county final and lost to St Michael’s.
“That was a monkey on our backs because we hadn’t performed well in that final so we carried that forward to the next one. For us, it was kind of making up for three years previous. Whatever about losing a final, when you don’t perform you’re disgusted.”
Winning at U21 didn’t immediately cause a change in senior fortunes, though.
“After 2009, we had a few bad years, really,” he says
On Sunday, O’Sullivan and his midfield partner Seán Kiely will likely be opposed by Kevin MacMahon and James Fitzpatrick and he expects a tough challenge, like in 2014.
“There’s no doubt they probably have the strongest midfield partnership in Cork,” he says. “I didn’t see the semi-final but the reports I got was the two were exceptional. I know James, from marking him down the years, has been one of the most consistent in Cork football and Kevin is a serious footballer full-stop.”
Despite losing the battle, Ballincollig won the war, but O’Sullivan isn’t expecting revenge to be the Rosscarbery club’s primary motivation.