Mourneabbey inspiring a culture of success in North Cork

Mourneabbey go to the well all over again tomorrow.

It’s a third ladies football All-Ireland club final for the north Cork club in four years, which means there’s a familiarity to the rhythm of the season.

“We’ve been in finals before,” says club chairman Ken O’Connell.

“It’s been a long season again. At this stage, it’s almost expected, that we’re involved so far into the year.

“The whole community is involved and committed to it, really — to the GAA and ladies football. Our pitch is a community pitch as opposed to a GAA pitch but everything is geared to Gaelic games in the area, whether that’s ladies football or the GAA.

“Because of all that, there’s huge excitement between the schools and the children and the parents.”

That’s reflected in the support, particularly in the semi-final they came through recently.

“The test would probably have been that game, against Foxrock-Cabinteely of Dublin. That was a home game for them, and I don’t know what the support base is for them, but we definitely outnumbered them on the day.

“We do have a fairly large support who’ll travel to the games, even when we went to Monaghan to play Donaghmoyne last year. They’re very loyal, and I’m sure we’ll have a decent support this weekend too — the bus is booked, certainly, and it’s full.

“The bus is a huge part of the experience — whether you’re celebrating a big win or heartbroken after a defeat, the point is that you’re all in it together, travelling on the bus. You stop in the same places on the way up and down for a coffee or food, and everyone mixes in together, players and supporters.

“It’s obviously a different journey when you lose, and we haven’t experienced the winning part of it outside of the Munster final, but it’s a huge deal for a community like ours in Mourneabbey.

“The ladies team is such a huge focus for the community because of the success they’ve had, coming through junior and intermediate, long before I was ever involved in the club. I’m living out there for 10 years and I’ve never seen anything like the community effort that goes into the club.”

The downside to that commitment is the devastation of loss, though.

“There’s that. My boyhood club, Blackrock, lost the county final and a final is very hard to win — but that’s the cost of success, isn’t it?

“It’s tough, because when you go into a final there are only two teams which can win it, obviously, so there’s heartbreak if you’re on the wrong side of it.”

Mourneabbey isn’t a huge area, so O’Connell says they’re determined to make the most of what they have now.

“Obviously the girls on the senior team at the moment are an inspiration to the kids coming up behind them, but we’d have a very strong set-up, even though the area is small enough.

“What helps, though, is that the area has pretty strong boundaries, it’s not like some other clubs which can be quite stretched out over a wide area. And that makes us stronger, it’s all focused on the one club.

“We have good people involved at underage, schools in the parish are committed to Gaelic games even though they’re small, but you’re right — you have to make hay while the sun shines in terms of success. This is the best promotion of ladies football you could get, a successful team.

“I remember St Michael’s had a great run in the Féile for a while, winning a good few, and it got to a stage where the parents were wondering ‘where’s the Feile on this year’, thinking of the national competition. Everyone presumed they’d make it there, but parents who hadn’t been involved in the GAA didn’t realise you had to win in Cork first, which was a tall order.

“There’s an element of that with us now, waiting for Munster finals and All-Ireland finals and so on, and it isn’t realistic to expect that’ll continue indefinitely.”

They hope it’ll continue for a while yet, though. Cora Staunton and Cornacon bar the way tomorrow but O’Connell says the focus on Staunton isn’t a distraction.

“The whole thing with ladies football is that it’s not in the limelight as much as the men’s game. We’re not overburdened with media attention — the girls with Cork, even, aren’t overburdened with that.

“On an another point, it strikes me sometimes that they don’t need as much as the men. I often see them playing a Munster final with Cork on a Sunday and play a county quarter-final on the Tuesday following. With the men’s, fellas want two weeks between games, and so on.

“The last four years Mourneabbey haven’t come across Cornacon. The year before that run for us started, they won the All-Ireland, but we haven’t met them on the field of play yet. It’s out of our hands, anyway. It’s all down to the players.”

As always.

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