At 28, Midleton captain Luke O’Farrell is one of the elder statesmen of the team. He’s experienced most of what there is to experience in hurling from winning the Harty Cup, to playing in All-Ireland finals and most importantly, with this weekend in mind, winning county titles.
Experience doesn’t necessarily change things, however, it just helps you see them a bit differently and this is particularly true of his feelings on being back in the decider.
“I guess it’s only starting to sink in now, that we’re in the final. The first time we got there was a little bit more surreal and I couldn’t believe we’d got there. This time, I kind of feel like we’ve earned it, we’ve gone about it the hard way. It feels really good.
“I was only mentioning to the lads after the first game against the Glen that we could remember plenty of games that we’d lost by a point, but we couldn’t remember too many championship games that we’d won by a point.
“So, I think that one was a huge weight off the shoulders, a monkey off the back. We definitely have taken massive belief from it. We’ve just learned through the years, and we’ve passed it on to some of the lads who have come in recently, that nothing, absolutely nothing, comes easily in hurling. It’s completely that you play until the very last second because anything can happen.
“I’ve seen it in inter-county and club that it’s never over until it’s over.”
Sometimes it can be difficult to figure out what’s different from year to year in whatever set-up you’re involved in. For instance, 2016 and 2017 saw Midleton exit the championship having lost close games against Erin’s Own and UCC respectively. This year, however, that trend has been reversed and O’Farrell points to a change in attitude as much as anything else within the group.
“I think that we’ve maybe prepared a bit more than we have in other years. We’ve said to ourselves that we’d apply ourselves more and maybe get more down and dirty than we have before.
“The things that we were putting emphasis on are more team-orientated and we’re just trying to appreciate the people who work unbelievably hard more than the people who are swinging the ball over the bar and scoring goals, maybe changed our values slightly. A lot of it would have started last year. We had a few chats early in the year and we placed an emphasis on different facets of the game. As a collective group; management, players, young, old, everybody has just started to see some benefits from it and I think there’s more a sense of achievement.
“There’s nothing better than feeling of ‘God, I left everything that I had out on the pitch there’. And that’s been the attitude for the last two years.”
All this is much in tune with the modern approach to sports. Things like focussing on processes and controlling the controllables and while O’Farrell buys into that totally, he’s not naive enough to forget about the results.
“That’s something that I’ve personally learned in the last couple of years. I think a lot of lads have bought into that idea. Obviously, you’re lying to yourself if you don’t want to see results from it and get the outcome from it. That is the ultimate point, but I think the more you prepare and the more effort you put in; the more pressure it takes off on the day.
“In the last three years I’ve a completely different attitude. It’s completely, as you said, all about the process, not even game-by-game but training-by-training, day-by-day, and moment-by-moment in the match and just play as hard as you can, for as long as you can. It’s just the way I’m taking it at the moment.”
Since the Glen game, Midleton have enjoyed that hurling eutopia of having regular, meaningful matches with the optimum two-week break in between and it’s something that the primary school teacher has thrived on.
“To have a game every two weeks has been amazing. And it’s a chance to have a real season, to get some form together, analyse your match. The length between the first round and playing the next round... I mean it’s like two different years. But there’s no argument for me, it’s what every player wants to be doing, playing consistent games.”