They provided one of the most uplifting stories of 2011.
Carrigtwohill, the 100/1 outsiders at the start of the season, climbing to the summit last October and claiming their first Cork senior hurling title in 93 years.
Now for Carrigtwohill’s next trick: attempting to defend that crown. Captain Mickey ‘Da’ Fitzgerald has been perusing the bookmakers’ odds of late and they illustrate not many expect them to repeat that feat.
“We were 33-1 a few weeks ago and now we’re 25-1. I don’t think that’s a true reflection of where we are. We know we came from nowhere last year, but we knew we had the players to do it. We’ll use it as a motivational factor during the year. We were high as kites after county final day. The start of the year we trained hard but there wasn’t the same buzz around the place. The last few weeks the buzz is back and this group of players are mad for road.”
Getting the man who shaped their season back at the helm has helped. James O’Connor, the Lismore native who is highly regarded for his coaching acumen in the East Cork town, took some persuading before he returned.
“James was humming and hawing about coming back to us,” reveals Fitzgerald. “He was going to go as he wanted to do a few other things. He wasn’t happy with losing in the Munster Club championship. He’s a very positive guy and thinks there is more there. It was actually players got James back in the end. He put it on paper to the club what he wanted and it was up to the players then to go approach him.
“There were a few things he wanted to change which he hadn’t liked during the year. I know that might seem strange given we won the county, but he has his ways. His man management is top class. Players now are different, with midfielders doing a lot more running than corner forwards.
“James breaks it down that everyone has different fitness levels and he gets everyone up to the same level then by the end of the championship. He’s very good with people.”
After the disappointment of their Munster club championship defeat to Crusheen in November, Carrigtwohill attempted to pick themselves up for a new campaign.
“We tried something different this year as we hit the gym four weeks after the Crusheen game,” says Fitzgerald. “We divided up into groups, and pump some weights. It was different rather than going out hurling training again. We regrouped the first week of February and started fitness training.
“In our first league game, we played Bishopstown and they beat us. You could see they were up for it, whereas we got caught still being in the honeymoon period. But we need to think like senior players. We need a big performance in the championship and need to push on now.”
The first hurdle to overcome is tonight in Páirc Uí Rinn against the latest arrival to senior hurling, Courcey Rovers.
“They’ve nothing to lose,” admits Fitzgerald. “I remember when we went up senior, in our first game, we were beaten by Na Piarsaigh by 10 points. I was in goal that day and I was sick of pucking out the ball by the end of the game. I think they got 24 points against us that night. We played Courcey’s a few years when we were intermediate and they had it better over us, winning a couple of games. They lost a couple finals as well at intermediate and the fact that they came back to win shows that they’ve got something.”
Yet there was a special bond evident in the Carrigtwohill setup last year and they hope that will help guide them again this season.
“Carrigtwohill is a very united club. I’ve said it to fellas after matches when do you ever seeing the president out playing golf with the captain? I’m 31 and I’d go out playing golf with Eddie Riordan, who’s 82. That’s the bond we have in Carrig. If there are flags to be put out, the players do it, it’s not left down to the committee members. Our hope is to beat Courcey’s, regroup and then see what we need to do. We want to get over the first round and try to map out where we go from there.”
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