A “once in a lifetime” season, a “once in a lifetime” opportunity at the end of it.
Tomorrow’s Munster intermediate hurling decider will be Kanturk’s 13th championship game of 2017.
Their footballers finished with a perfect five from five, while the hurlers are so far seven from seven.
We make reference to the football because there’s no point differentiating between the codes where the Duhallow club is concerned -the same players, have driven, and continue to drive both.
Let’s begin with the three Walsh brothers, Ryan, Ian and Paul. The latter is corner-back for the hurlers, centre-forward for the footballers. Ryan is midfield for both, while Ian, top-scorer last time out against Ballyduff, is half-forward for the hurlers, corner-forward for a football team overseen by their dad, Jerome.
Indeed, of the 0-14 Kanturk kicked on the evening of their county intermediate final win over Mitchelstown, the three brothers accounted for ten points.
Their first cousin Aidan hasn’t allowed a foot injury limit his involvement, captaining the footballers to promotion and taking up station at left half-forward for the hurlers.
Next up are the McLoughlin brothers. John serves in the rearguard unit of both teams. Lorcán, scorers of eight points during the Cork PIHC final victory over Mallow, will wear the number eight shirt tomorrow, having played right half-forward for the footballers.
There are the Brownes siblings; Cork U21 hurler Darren is centre-back on Donough Duane’s side, full-back for the big ball. John will be beside his brother in the half-back line tomorrow but plies his trade at midfield for the footballers.
Bringing the number of dual starters to 11 are Mark Healy, Alan Sheehy and Lorcan O’Neill. The latter, 24, is captain of the hurlers.
He can’t remember a time when the town of Kanturk was so united. There’s hardly a soul in their North Cork patch who hasn’t been swept along on their journey.
“The entire town is so behind us,” O’Neill remarks.
“Everybody is so proud of us at the moment and hopefully, we can bring back the Munster Cup to Kanturk on Sunday.”
That we’re even discussing the potential of a provincial title says plenty of the turnaround in their fortunes this year. Twelve months ago they were mulling over a season which brushed with relegation. Defeat in their opening two championship games plunged them into a relegation battle where they overcame Tracton, their only competitive win of 2016.
Their current run, according to O’Neill, has a lot to do with the manner in which last season petered out.
“We fell short, but that was our own fault. We had to take responsibility. We did. The players have stepped up to the mark big time this year in both hurling and football. It is very simple; you get out what you put in. We met at the start of the year and we set out our goals. We were saying we wanted to win both because we felt we were able to win both.
“Lads put their heads down and trained hard. They went away and did stuff in their own time.”
When the Cork hurlers exited the All-Ireland championship by Waterford in mid-August, both Kanturk teams were fired back into action. Hurling one week, football the next. And so on and so on. Tomorrow will be the ninth weekend out of the past 11 where they’ve faced into a knockout fixture.
“The winning mentality is the big thing. Going into each game we’d say, ‘we need to win this game to set us up for next week, we need to win the hurling to win the football and we need to win the football to win the hurling’. It is hard to stop a team with the winning momentum. “Fellas are looking after themselves during the week too. There were lads wading into rivers to recover, cryotherapy spas, foam-rolling, the works. Every fella is responsible for themselves.”
Back in 2011, Kanturk won the county junior football title on a Friday evening in mid-November. They travelled to Waterville two days later for a Munster semi-final against Declan O’Sullivan’s Dromid Pearses. Fatigue eventually got the better of them and they were beaten after extra-time, an 18-year old O’Neill lasting the 80 minutes at corner-back. They weren’t sure if they’d ever get a second provincial crack.
“We said after the county final that now we have this opportunity, we will take it with two hands, grasp it and see what comes out of it. “Thankfully, we’ve reached the final. Hopefully, we can go and win it. We have two cups. We want a third.”
Even if it does prove a case of unlucky 13, manager Donough Duane knows there won’t ever be a year to rival 2017.
“The two county cups on their own are a massive achievement for a club in west Duhallow. It is historical,” Duane insisted.
“Aidan [Walsh] did say in his speech after the football win, they’re not finished yet. They want to win more, they want to do something with this group. It is seldom a group this talented comes into a club, you must take full advantage. They know that. A Munster final, for a club, may only come around once in a lifetime. Even what they’ve achieved to date is a once in a lifetime, beyond our wildest dreams, really, when you’re thinking back to January when both managers sat down together. 2016 wasn’t a good year for the hurlers so we were just trying to get over the first round. Little did we think we’d be looking forward to a Munster final on November 19. It has been an incredible year.”
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