The Kanturk hurlers have no problem admitting they spent many a year looking up to their Newtownshandrum counterparts, geographically and otherwise.
Newtownshandrum sits 25km north of Kanturk and, during the noughties, their fortunes inside the four white lines couldn’t have been more contrasting.
Kanturk were promoted from junior to intermediate by default at the same time as Newtown were picking up their second Cork SHC title in the autumn of 2003.
The following spring, the latter were crowned All-Ireland club champions. They’d finish the decade with four county championship wins, three Munster successes and a return to Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day in 2006, although they came off second best to Portumna on that occasion.
Kanturk, meanwhile, were having little joy in shaking their intermediate tag.
Tomorrow evening at Charleville, the pair lock horns in the first round of the Cork SHC, Kanturk’s first championship outing at senior level.
Their ascension to the top tier was secured in early October of last year, but goalkeeper Anthony Nash says it did not properly sink in until they were drawn against their neighbours two months later.
“As senior goes, it is the most local derby we could have gotten. It was ironic in a way that we got them out of all the teams in Cork,” said Nash earlier this year.
“I would be very friendly with the O’Connors (former Cork stars Ben and Jerry) and a few more of those lads and to see what they did for such a small parish was fantastic. I would have supported them the whole way. We wouldn’t even be considered rivals until this year and still wouldn’t, really.
“Until you drive through there and see the size of the place, you can’t appreciate what they did. It’s incredible. You have huge parishes and towns that have done it, but Newtown is such a small area and a club you can’t but look up to.”
This is a sentiment shared by Kanturk manager Donagh Duane, who, in his first campaign as manager, guided the club to county (premier intermediate), Munster, and All- Ireland intermediate success.
“The more senior players on the Kanturk team would have been up in Croke Park on St Patrick’s day watching them when Newtown won their All-Ireland in 2004. As a club, we were lucky enough to taste that success in Croke Park this year.
“For Newtownshandrum to be there on the biggest club stage of all is a huge achievement. We respect them massively. I’m sure some of our lads had to pinch themselves when they saw the fixture up on Twitter or in the newspaper, saying Newtownshandrum v Kanturk. Kanturk hurling is in a great place so we are really looking forward to the match.”
A significant step Duane has been attempting to take with his players in recent weeks is to no longer view their neighbours as a superior club. Yes, their rolls of honour differ greatly, but come Saturday evening, they are both senior clubs. They are equals.
“That is the pinch effect,” the manager continues. “We need to realise where we are. We have got two senior league games under our belt and they were a good learning curve. You get a wake-up call pretty quick as to how intense, ferocious and competitive it is.
The main concern from a Kanturk perspective has to be fatigue. Their 2017 season didn’t finish until February 4th of this year and you must factor in that most of the hurling team successful in Croke Park were also playing football right through last year.
Their footballers, intermediate champions in 2017, lost their opening premier intermediate bout to Nemo Rangers, the club’s first championship defeat since September of 2016.
"One way of looking at it is that we have a year of hurling behind us, with just a small break in the middle of that. Hopefully, that momentum and sharpness will stand to us. Hopefully, there is no tired factor."
In Newtownshandrum, a new team is emerging. Manager Gary Morrissey reckons tomorrow’s starting team will contain just four survivors from the noughties.
“We are very young. We have five or six U21s and then another block of five or six who are between 22-24. There are only two over 30 on the whole panel. The playing pool is small.
"We got hit by emigration there two years ago. A lot of lads emigrated and other lads retired. That is just the way it is. At the same time, we are very happy with our panel. There is no-one there for the free T-shirt.
"Every lad there has a realistic chance of making the team. I don’t think there is any pressure to replicate the noughties. You’ve got to make your own history. You have to earn your own success. We don’t talk about the team from the noughties.”
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