Twenty-eight summers have passed since Pat Nolan first played junior A championship for Gabriel Rangers as a teenager.
Now 45, Nolan is still a key member of the Ballydehob and Schull club’s squad as they stand just two wins from Munster championship glory, with a Munster Club JFC semi-final against Tipperary’s Clonoulty-Rossmore in Clonakilty today (2pm).
A garda based in Donoughmore, Nolan lives in Lombardstown near Mallow, but the logistics involved never threatened to impinge on his ability to line out for his native club.
“I do it because I still enjoy it,” he says. “It’s a good way to keep in touch with home and I suppose I’ve been lucky with injuries — until this year, when I’ve had some hamstring problems — so there has never really been a question of retiring. I always felt we had enough in the panel to win a West Cork but going on into the county championship then you wouldn’t know how things would go.”
He experienced that in 2010, when Gabriels won the Carbery JAFC title for the first time, but their county championship campaign ended at the first stage, losing to White’s Cross. The competitive nature of the divisional championship — they lost the 2014 final to St Mary’s — meant those lessons took a while to be put into action, but this year everything clicked.
“When we won the Carbery championship in 2010, it was a huge thing,” says Nolan, a Cork minor panellist in 1989. “We had been trying to win it for so long that there were big celebrations and then it was difficult to rise it again for the county. This year, we wanted to make sure that that didn’t happen but I suppose what’s strange is that the team this year is actually very different to the one in 2010. I think there are 13 changes from the panel and a good few of the fellas who were on both were very young in 2010, but there was a real determination to do well in the county.”
After emerging from Carbery, Gabriels beat Ballyclough, Knocknagree (after a replay), and then Shamrocks in the final. The run has continued in Munster, with Meelick of Clare beaten a fortnight ago. Nolan pays tribute to the influence of Mike O’Brien, the Castlehaven native who took over as manager at the start of this year.
“He has a really deep will to win, I suppose it’s probably a Castlehaven thing,” says Nolan, adding that he’s a “brilliant manager”.
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