Since the introduction of the third chance in the Cork county championships in 2010, twice have teams won a title after losing their first two games.
Both have been in football, Newmarket in the 2011 Premier IFC and Castletownbere in the IFC a year later. Tomorrow in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Na Piarsaigh will look to make it three, as they take on Valley Rovers with a senior place at stake.
For the northside club, the possibility of a return to the top grade just two years after relegation would confound expectations, according to manager Diarmuid McDonnell.
“There was a fear within the club that we might go further and further [down], that we’d end up as a junior football club,” he says.
“That notion was bandied about immediately after we were relegated. In fairness, the guys involved last year raised it and we were very unlucky not to get a result against Glenville in round four last year. Round three is always a horrible round, in hurling or football and in any grade. After the first round this year, I saw enough in our guys, given the players that we were missing that day, to say that we’d be okay.
“I didn’t envisage a county final, but I felt that we showed enough character and spirit. The Naomh Abán game in the second round threw us, we were very poor but we turned it around, thankfully.”
Coincidentally — or perhaps not, given the high levels of crossover — Piarsaigh lost their first two games in the SHC too, before reaching the semi-finals. Maintaining two challenges can be tricky but as the wins mounted, the momentum accelerated.
“I think we were playing eight out of 10 weeks,” McDonnell says. “When we won, it lifted the hurlers and vice versa but that’s to be expected because there’s a core group of players there, anyway.
“Nothing beats winning, and we were close enough to beating Sarsfields in the senior hurling semi-final too, a couple of bounces of the ball and we’d have been in the final.”
The football semi-final win against Bantry Blues — who had beaten them in the first round — came immediately after the hurling defeat to Sars. McDonnell admits he was concerned about raising morale but his fears proved to be unfounded.
“I came out of the Páirc that day after the Sars game and I was worried, I was wondering how the lads would react,” he says.
“I didn’t send texts or anything to tell them when training was and I was expecting low heads in the dressing room but the majority of them were on the pitch before me that Tuesday night.
“They had sat down themselves and decided that they had to get to a final, losing two semi-finals in the one year is a horrible thing to have under your name.
“Our lads have been monumental this year. It’s a great badge of honour, to be able to say that you’ve played senior hurling and football for your club, there aren’t many clubs doing it.
“We’re not one now, but hopefully after Sunday we will be again.”
To achieve that, they will need to beat a Valleys side which has answered any questions posed so far. Going in with little or no expectation suits McDonnell.
“I love being the underdog, it suits our character and our make-up,” he says. “We’re certainly no good when we’re cocky and arrogant because we’ll end up falling on our arses.
“Valleys are playing so well this year in league and championship that it would be fairytale stuff to get anything on Sunday. It happens occasionally, why not Sunday?”
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