When did it shift? Risky business to suggest the grapple for supremacy between West Cork rivals Carbery Rangers and Castlehaven hinged on one hour of football, but the 2014 fourth-round replay between the pair seems as good a place as any to begin.
The pair meet in the Cork SFC quarter-final tomorrow (Dunmanway, 7pm), their first championship collision since that replay three years ago. Different paths have been travelled since, Rangers now the dominant force, the team to beat.
Castlehaven, under the watch of Finbarr Santry, were chasing a third straight county title the summer of 2014. The fourth-round fixture against neighbours Carbery Rangers was their first championship game in almost four months. Rustiness, though, wasn’t an issue. Indeed, the reigning champions were six up early in the second period when the temporary sidelining of Brian Hurley — injury-enforced — enabled the Rosscarbery outfit to work their way back into proceedings. Four-and-a-half minutes into stoppage time, John Hayes slotted a close-range free to salvage a second day out.
“We got out of jail,” was the assessment of then Carbery Rangers coach Micheál “Haulie” O’Sullivan.
They were a different animal two weeks later, inflicting a first championship defeat on the ’Haven since 2011.
Castlehaven manager Liam Collins was left half-back that afternoon. “Rosscarbery learned more from the drawn game than we did,” he says.
“They brought a lot of hunger to that replay. We were on the ropes and you can’t beat the hungrier team.
“We had beaten them on a few previous occasions. They obviously learned from those games. The team that is willing to learn and brings a good attitude to the game will, at some stage, come out on top.”
Carbery Rangers went on to contest their first county final in 108 years a month later and eventually got over the line to claim a maiden county title last October.
From the Castlehaven team which took to the field for that fourth-round replay, just seven started last month’s second-round win over divisional side Carbery: Paudie Hurley, Damien Cahalane, David Limrick, Chris Hayes, Sean Dineen, Michael Hurley, and Mark Collins.
Transition may be a term too loosely bandied about in GAA circles, but Castlehaven cannot be viewed in any other light at present.
Collins says: “Dermot Hurley retired from Castlehaven last year. He was an awful loss to us during our league campaign as he was a steady operator for us all the time. Timmy Donovan, who was involved with us previously, is working and living in Dublin so he couldn’t make the commitment. Mike Dineen is working in America. So that’s three big guys around the middle of the field. There was a lot of change required. Then Brian Hurley got injured.”
Their Kelleher Shield form rings true of a team undergoing a period of adjustment. From 10 games, they’ve managed just one win.
“Last year, we had Conor Cahalane and Cathal Maguire embedded onto the starting team. This year, young fellas like David Whelton, Ciarán O’Sullivan, and Ronan Walsh have come in. This is their first campaign experiencing senior championship. It will take a bit of time for these lads to get up to championship speed. They’re only after playing two games. But the experience of those two games, you hope, will stand to them this weekend.”
He adds: “You always expect to meet a top team come the quarter-finals. We’re not going to be frightened away from that at all. We know we have a serious game at hand and if we are to win then we will have to play to the top of our game.
“Expectation outside of Castlehaven might be low, but we feel that if our lads play to the best of their ability, I see no reason why we can’t compete and even win it.”
Meanwhile, the first of the Cork SFC quarter-finals throws in this evening (Páirc Uí Rinn, 7.30pm) as Ballincollig clash with St Finbarr’s. Ballincollig won through by 3-17 to 1-10 when they met in the first round but it should be noted that the Barrs were without Michael Shields and Stephen Sherlock.