Prior to their second round fixture against Valley Rovers on August 31, the Newcestown footballers hadn’t won a championship match proper in just over three years — 1,125 days, to be precise. Six weeks later, they find themselves one hour from a first Cork senior football final appearance. By any metric, that’s quite a turnaround.
No question but recent seasons went anything but to plan for the Newcestown footballers. A dual senior club where roughly 10 players are regular starters on both teams, it was the hurlers who took the limelight in 2017 and 2018, reaching back-to-back quarter-finals.
Football manager Tom Wilson is in no doubt that the hurlers’ elimination at the second round hurdle this year has been a significant factor in the footballers advancing to a first semi-final.
“Our hurlers, unfortunately, were beaten early this year. It is that simple, really,” replies Wilson when asked why the footballers’ 2019 results stand in such stark contrast to the first and second-round defeats of the last two years.
We are a dual club, but we are also a small club. It is pretty much the same team when it comes down to it. When games in both codes come close together, the reality is that one tends to suffer.
"Whichever one comes first kinda gets the attention. If you have to change codes a week later, it certainly doesn’t help.
“The last two years, our hurlers got to the quarter-final. We were delighted with that. Unfortunately, they took a dip this year. The fact we were beaten in the second round of the hurling gave us three weeks uninterrupted ahead of our Valley Rovers second round football game. Overall now, we have had eight weeks of undisturbed football which we haven’t had in a long, long time.”
Their 1-13 to 0-14 victory over Valley Rovers at the end of August was the club’s first football championship win since August 1, 2016. Yes, Newcestown won both of their relegation play-off games in 2017 and 2018, but with no actual relegation in place in either of those seasons, they were meaningless fixtures.
2019 looked like it would follow along the same line as recent years when Newcestown came up short to Clon first day out. Wilson accepts it was difficult, back in April, to see them pitching up in the last four of the championship.
“When we went back into championship mode in August, our focus would have been on achieving Premier Senior status in 2020. When we did achieve that by beating Mallow to get into the quarter-final, the next thing we wanted to do was win our quarter-final against Ilen Rovers and get into a semi-final. We are hoping we can go one further again on Sunday and get to a final for the first time ever.
Our season has taken off since the Valley Rovers game. We have taken confidence from each win and have improved incrementally game-on-game.
Along with the single code focus of recent weeks, another strand feeding into their three-game unbeaten run is the arrival onto the management ticket of former Cork footballers Colm and Brian O’Driscoll. Their involvement stems from Colm asking Newcestown half-forward Cárthach Keane to come down and train Tadhg MacCarthaigh earlier this year. Keane took a few sessions before then asking Colm would he be interested in lending a hand coaching Newcestown. He was, and along with him came younger brother Brian, the pair joining the Newcestown set-up in the weeks before the Valley Rovers tie.
“They’ve brought new impetus to things, they’ve brought a new way of doing things,” Wilson continued.
“They are both very experienced inter-county players. They have helped with the coaching and you can see their impact, hugely so.
They came in with a new system in how we play. The fact that we have been winning with it has brought a confidence in what they are doing, as well.
“Most of our lads were involved in the PIHC final win of 2015. They want to get back to another county final, particularly when it is senior.”
Their opponents, Duhallow, have a number of players in action today as Kanturk face St Michael’s for a place in the Cork PIFC final (Mallow, 7.30pm). John McLoughlin, Lorcan O’Neill, Daniel O’Connell, Paul Walsh, Aidan Walsh, and Ian Walsh featured during Duhallow’s quarter-final win over Clonakilty and so are facing into two games in three days. St Michael’s are bidding to reach a fourth PIFC final in five years.