Code Crackers

For the once hurling-centric Éire Óg club, Sunday’s football finals – and the appearance of Daniel Goulding, Ciaran Sheehan and exciting minor Kevin Hallissey – offer a global platform to the strides the club has made with the big ball. Fintan O’Toole visited the Ovens-based club

JIM O’NEILl traces the origins back to 1998. That year he was over the Éire Óg U14 football side and along with Leo Lowney and Mick Landers steered them to the final of the Féile competition in Cork. The prize was a spot in the national Féile competition, the annual festival of underage football, and it was grasped in an atmosphere of high excitement.

A last-gasp Donal O’Flynn goal in the decider in Páirc Uí Rinn that April snatched victory from Carrigaline. The Féile that July was held in Donegal and O’Neill led a squad and management team filled with enthusiasm towards their base in Glenties. Kildare’s Moorefield ousted them in the semi-final, but O’Neill recognises those times as seminal.

From there football developed in the club on an incremental basis and after all that graft, All-Ireland football finals day on Sunday sees a milestone reached with three sons of Éire Óg in action. Kevin Hallissey lines out for the Cork minors in the curtain-raiser with Daniel Goulding and Ciaran Sheehan on duty for the Cork seniors in the main act. For a club with a rich hurling tradition it is a startling achievement.

One of the founders of the club in 1928, PJ O’Connell, had earlier won an All-Ireland senior medal with Cork in 1911. Colm Sheehan, a grand-uncle of Ciaran, rattled the net three times as Cork triumphed in the 1966 All-Ireland decider. And aside from his senior hurling honours, Mick Malone has carved his own niche in history courtesy of four All-Ireland U21 medals between 1968 and 1971. At club level there were county junior hurling titles in 1962 and 1977, and intermediate crowns in 1979 and 1985. Through all that time, football largely played second fiddle.

“For a long time, players focused on hurling and when they were beaten in the championship they then played football”, says former club chairman O’Neill. “There were good footballers but we just didn’t manage to bring them through.”

Johnny Brady is the president of both Éire Óg and the Mid-Cork division and turns 83 in November. Yet his mind is as sharp as ever and his passion for the GAA still burns brightly.

“Hurling was always the main game, but there was football played as well. Before Éire Óg was founded in 1928, the team before that in the area, Bridevalley, would have played football. We still played football away, and one day in the 60s I took 14 players in an old Ford Escort to Blarney for an U14 football game.

“But the interest wasn’t there. Fellas would often say at Mass on Sunday morning they’d go to football games and then half an hour later Brady would be looking at the gate for them. It wasn’t about winning football games with us, we were just lucky if we got a few wides.”

“There was no conscious effort to bring football into the club after that even though some people might think there was”, says O’Neill. “It just happened that we became more organised at underage level. We won a Mid-Cork junior in 1976 and got to five divisional U21 finals in the 80’s without winning any of them. The Féile win in the 1998 was probably the start of it.”

The influx into the parish of people from football strongholds accelerated the development. O’Neill is from Urhan in West Cork, current club chairman Leo Lowney is from Adrigole. There was also a strong Kerry influence in coaching at underage level in Mick Landers from An Ghaeltacht, Joe O’Connor from Brosna, John Brennan from St Finian’s Bay, John O’Connor from Foilmore and current intermediate football team coach, John O’Shea from Sneem.

“You have to say the football fellas that came in were a huge addition”, says Barry Corkery, the present centre-back of the intermediate football team. “They made a big difference in helping the coaching and because of them the underage teams were soon playing in premier grades. Brendan O’Leary coached Goulding a lot in football and when I started Dick Nagle was there; he drove the football on when there was no one else doing it.”

AWAY from the club, there were other key inputs. Ballyvourney native Eoghan Hyde started teaching in Ovens primary school in 1993 and helped revamp the football ethos there. In 1998 he guided a team to win the Cork Mini-Sevens football competition and that August Daniel Goulding made his Croke Park debut, ironically in the colours of Kerry at half-time of the All-Ireland semi-final againts Kildare. John O’Shea was heavily involved in turning Coláiste Choilm in Ballincollig, where several club players went to, into consistent challengers at Corn Uí Mhuirí level.

“Eoghan Hyde made a big difference in Ovens”, says Vincent Fahy, a current player and selector with the intermediate footballers. “Liam Miller, who’s playing soccer in Scotland now, was on the first team that won the Sciath na Scol. He was outstanding and played for Cork U14’s in hurling and football. Hallissey reminds me of him now, confident, almost cheeky, on the ball and very skilful. He played on for Éire Óg until he was 16 and then was signed by Celtic.”

The football underage grades have flourished in the past decade with county minor titles claimed at ‘A’ level in 2002 and 2006, and the intermediate ranks were reached with a county junior win in 2008. Goulding was the first Éire Óg player to line out for the Cork minor footballers in 2003 with Shane McCarthy, Cian Lowney, Sheehan, John Dineen and Hallissey all following suit. Corkery and Fahy are the only two players over 30 on the intermediate football side, and readily admit they would no longer be involved but for the standards being raised with inter-county players present.

“I’d have given up long ago if it wasn’t for things changing”, says Fahy. “You see now with the inter-county fellas that you’ve a chance now to be successful. It definitely started to change from the time Goulding became Cork minor. I think the current players really enjoy the set-up now. This might never happen again having three fellas involved with Cork.”

“I definitely wouldn’t be involved”, reveals Corkery. “Winning the county was great two years ago, to even win a Mid-Cork was unbelievable. I’d say we lost about six Mid Cork junior opening rounds in a row but we didn’t care enough about it. Then in 2003 in Goulding’s first year in the team we beat Kilmichael. There were some fine footballers in the club before like Kieran Murphy, Dave Barry, Jim Moriarty and Patrick Courtney. The bottom line though was we’d no one to score. You now have Goulding, Ciaran, Hallissey and John Dineen, who was Cork minor last year.”

They all have their own memories of the players developing, little flashes of brilliance from over the years. For O’Neill it was the shot that Goulding rocketed to the net that turned the second-half of the 2002 county minor final in Éire Óg’s direction. For Corkery it was the 0-9 haul that Sheehan claimed on his IHC debut against Blackrock as a 15 year-old before his Junior Cert exams in 2006, including a 50-yard free from the sideline in injury-time to draw the game. For Fahy it was Hallissey’s 0-11 return against Mayfield in a minor hurling championship tie last September that Éire Óg narrowly prevailed in by 0-13 to 0-12.

The Croke Park three are flag-bearers for the club, but despite their senior demands, both Goulding and Sheehan travelled to Thurles on a Wednesday night last May for Hallissey’s Cork minor football debut in the Munster semi-final against Tipperary. Kevin’s mother Lorraine was Daniel’s babysitter when he was in primary school.

Attempting to compete in both football and hurling has generated the typical problems that beset dual clubs.

“It can be a nightmare with fixtures”, says Lowney. “Next week we’ve a championship game with our U21 hurlers playing on Tuesday night and then the intermediate footballers on the Saturday. It’s all about managing the codes. I would always argue that in the last decade, both football and hurling have thrived. The three lads epitomise that. Ciaran and Kevin have been dual players for Cork, while Daniel is a very important hurler for the club.”

Corkery takes special pride in Goulding and Hallissey’s achievements as the three hail from a two mile narrow stretch of road near the club known locally as ‘the Boreen’.

“There’s a good bit of craic about the Boreen”, laughs Corkery. “When I started playing intermediate hurling first, my neighbour Joe Murphy came up to me before the game and said how Boreen people never let the club down in championship. It always stuck with me. Then with Goulding and Hallissey both being from that road, the talk built up. It’s like a little republic in the parish.”

The anticipation for Sunday is tangible. Both Ovens and Farran are festooned in red and white, while on Wednesday night C103 recorded an hour-long programme chronicling the club’s development. As ever the supply of match tickets does not meet the demand. Lowney divvied out the original allocation of 40 on Tuesday night but estimates they would need around 200 to sate the appetite.One man who will be staying put at home in Farran to watch events unfold is Johnny Brady.

“It’s bad enough all the people shouting at the match, but if you go watch it in a pub, you’ve people shouting at the television at the team and the referee as if they’ll make a difference.

“Brady can’t understand that at all. But I’d be very proud when I see the three Éire Óg lads playing. You couldn’t but be proud.”


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