Here is the traditional narrative as we usually understand it at this time of year.
A small club overcomes huge obstacles to make it to a county decider for the first time in decades, with accompanying emotion as they trot out at the county grounds, awestruck by their surroundings — “Well, it’s our second county final of the year,” says John Cullinane of Goleen GAA.
“We were in the county final in July against Grange. They beat us by three points, 2-4 to 0-7.”
Well, clearly one story size doesn’t fit all. Goleen is in a picturesque angle of west Cork but silverware is a rare visitor to the village — “We won a Junior C county in 2016,” adds Cullinane.
“We’ve been knocking on the door since in Junior B, but Grange had a bit of experience on us the last day out. They’ve been in a couple of county finals in the last couple of years, and they had a bit more know-how.”
Enough of the traditional narratives, then. It’s not every year a team gets the opportunity to make up for a county final loss a few weeks later, so Goleen are keen on their return visit tomorrow to the city for the JBFC final against St Michael’s (5.15pm).
“That Grange game was our first county final in Páirc Uí Rinn,” says Cullinane. “It’s a challenge — going up to Páirc Uí Rinn for a first big game is a different experience. It certainly was for the team in general, and the younger players in particular.
“And on the day we didn’t really perform — which is not to take away from Grange, they were very good. Their player-manager Michael Hennessy was also manager of Abbey Rovers when we played them in the 2016 county final, so he’s been around. After that final in July he said to us to keep at it and that we’d get back.
Now, you’re down after a defeat. You’re not maybe paying that much attention to what the other manager is saying right after the final whistle, but here we are three months later back in a county final. A pleasant surprise.
In this competition Goleen had to fight their way out of a round-robin series, where an early win over Newcestown was a significant boost.
“We knew they’d probably have lads who might come down from the first team but we beat them down in Castlehaven under lights a month or so ago. I’d say we played some of our best football of the year that night, so it was a good boost to the confidence.”
They’ve also noticed a trend in their games, one they aim to rectify this weekend.
“Newcestown came back at us strong late on in that game — we were 1-6 to 0-4 up in the first half and going well, but they put us under pressure in the second half. We weathered the storm, though. A team from Beara pulled out of the competition at the last minute because they couldn’t field, so we ended up getting a bye through to play Bride Rovers in the county semi-final.
"It played out in a similar way to the Newcestown one in that we were very good in the first half but were hanging on by a thread towards the end. We’ll take this weekend’s game as it comes, obviously, but we’ll be hoping to address that tendency in the final.”
And to make up for the disappointment against Grange? “We’re hoping it’ll be the case that the game in July will stand to us. We’ll be taking that experience on board and focusing on not letting the occasion get to us. We’ll be aiming to give a better showing this time round, even though we weren’t far off the mark against Grange either. We’ve played 11 championship game this years and only lost one, so we know we’re doing something right.” That they are. Cullinane points out that there’s more quality in the grade than casual observers might think.
“We have Gene O’Driscoll training us, and the sessions are always different, every night is different That’s been a huge help. Gene was involved with Cork at underage so he’s very experienced, and he brings that freshness to the whole thing.
“It’s his second year with us, so he’s getting more of a handle on us — and on the grade as well. There’s more to it than meets the eye. Last year we lost in the championship to Bandon and the likes of (Cork senior hurler) Michael Cahalane was playing with them that night. A week later he was playing senior with UCC, so it shows this grade can be harder to win than people might realise.”
Cullinane speaks from experience. It’s fair to say he’s one of the more experienced players in the Goleen ranks — “nearer 50 than 40, leave it at that” — and a couple of decades ago he was on the Carbery senior football panel contesting county finals. Then he had a disagreement with some agricultural machinery.
“I’d have very little movement in one thumb, maybe 30% movement, but I wouldn’t be using that as an excuse. Even after the accident happened I went back playing senior football with Carbery, and we had a very good team then.
“Gene Desmond who played with the ‘Barr’s was training us, and we had Fachtna Collins, Jason Whooley, Pat Hegarty, a lot of good footballers at that stage. I was a sub for Carbery the year we lost to Nemo (2000), but I wasn’t involved for a couple of years after that.”
He’s still lining out for Goleen, though. Like every small club in rural Ireland they’re trying to keep going. Backboned by the likes of Ronan Kennedy, Daniel O’Callaghan, Daniel O’Driscoll, Darren O’Donovan, Tadgh Cullinane and Patrick Scully, Cullinane and his colleagues have at least seen some new faces enter the ranks, though.
The last couple of years we’ve been able to pull four or five minors onto the team — that’s huge for a club the size of Goleen, because in real terms you’re refreshing one third of the team.
“Definitely they have driven us on this year, those minors. That number of new players is a huge plus, and if we brought through another one or two in the next couple of years we would have refreshed half the team, which would be great.
“Now in five or 10 years’ time things might be dodgy. It all depends on the numbers, but you’d hope that at least these new lads will help keep us going to that stage and beyond, and make it that bit easier to keep going when and if the crunch comes.
“And winning would help as well this weekend. If we did win we would have the option of going up to Junior A or Junior 1. That’s a decision the club would have to make over the winter, but to me it’d be a natural progression and would give young players something to aim for. Now that’s not putting the cart before the horse. We have a final to try to win first, and that’s what we’re focused on for the weekend, pure and simple.”
That doesn’t mean forgetting the neighbours, though.
“The lads in Gabriel Rangers are playing Knocknagree in the county intermediate final as well this weekend. There’ll be a huge interest in the area in our game and in theirs — our captain and Gabriel’s captain are first cousins, a lot of the lads would fall in to play soccer together with Mizen AFC. So there’ll be a big crowd heading up from the Schull-Ballydehob-Goleen area for the two games this weekend.”
Villages decamping for county final day? That’s a narrative everyone recognises.