Despite three county final defeats over the past six seasons, St Michael’s manager John Holly insists his players carry no “psychological baggage” into tomorrow’s Cork Premier IFC decider.
Having come up a point short of St Vincent’s in 2012, Carrigaline in 2015, and Mallow last year, St Michael’s are back within an hour of promotion to the senior ranks for the fourth time in seven years.
Holly doesn’t see his players being inhibited by those previous final setbacks, largely because this is a new group attempting to bridge the 20-year gap to their last intermediate final win.
Granted, the 2018 class is much the same as the one that lost to Mallow (1-17 to 1-16), but there aren’t too many facing into a third or fourth county final tomorrow.
From the team that defeated Éire Óg in this month’s semi-final, only four players — Alan O’Callaghan, Daniel Meaney, and Eric and Keith Hegarty — started the 2015 final, against Carrigaline. Emigration, among other factors, hasn’t been kind to this city club.
Back in 2008, the club celebrated a second county minor final win in three years. That group of players should now be in their prime. Instead, less than a handful of those young stars are expected to feature against Fermoy at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
“If you go back to our semi-final, the average age of those who came on was around 23. A load of those lads weren’t around in 2012 and even 2015. With regard to the club as a whole, you might think there is some psychological baggage. There’s not,” Holly stressed.
“Unlike 2015, where we didn’t perform at all, we played well enough last year and were just pipped by a slightly better team on the day.
“There is no major psychological baggage from that. There are 12 or 13 of the 26-man panel from 2015 still involved. That’s a fair turnover in three years.
“Quite a few have emigrated. A lot of lads came out of college and then worked around Cork for two or three years. Next thing, they move on. Shane O’Keeffe qualified as a doctor last year and is in Australia now. There have been a few retirements and lads who struggled with injury.
“On the other side, a lot of good young fellas have come through. We’d a very strong minor team last year; lost the Premier 2 final.
“Diarmuid Cormack has come through from that team. We are in the Premier 1 minor final this year and Billy Cain has already come through from this team.
“Added to that, the good U21 and junior teams we have had for the last couple of years have contributed to us having a strong panel. It is just a matter of picking it up after last year and driving on.”
And driven it on they have. Macroom may have come within a point of them in the opening, round, but, thereafter, they’ve been hugely impressive.
Newmarket were next, on a 0-14 to 0-7 scoreline, while they had four to spare over Éire Óg.
Having finished top of Division 2 and taken points from nine of their 10 league fixtures, their only competitive defeat of 2018 was back in April, 1-11 to 1-10 to Castlehaven.
“At the start of the year, we had to rein them in a bit, so as not to do too much too soon. They were mad to get back at it. We played Douglas in our first league game, back in February.
“Douglas weren’t at their strongest, but we beat them by 18 points. They were hopping. The players are very keen to make amends for last year. Anyone who loses a final doesn’t want that feeling again. For some players, it can be something that weighs them down.
“For others, it can drive them on, their absolute determination not to experience that hurt again. I hope our lads use it as a driving force to get them over the line.”