AFTER the riotous celebrations on the national stage in Croke Park on Sunday, last night saw the Cork squad return to the heartland of football in the county.
The team bus departed the city yesterday afternoon after the traditional Tuesday lunch in the Heineken brewery with their journey mapped out to culminate over 50 miles away in Bantry, the home of team captain Graham Canty.
En route, the team tipped their hats towards history and made a notable pitstop. Sam Maguire, born in the townland of Mallabraca outside Dunmanway in 1879, is famed as the eponym of the trophy awarded to the All-Ireland senior football champions and yesterday afternoon the canister was brought back to the square in his native town.
After that symbolic gesture, the team bus snaked the 16 miles to Wolfe Tone Square in the heart of Bantry where they were greeted by hordes of supporters who had congregated from all over the Carbery and Beara divisions. It was a momentous occasion for Canty, the first man from the proud football stronghold to captain Cork to All-Ireland success, and it was a night when the locals who helped his career development were foremost in his thoughts.
“It feels great coming to Bantry. The first bit of time that any one of us got is at home with the club, it was no different with me. It’s strange as well because a lot of people who put time into me when I was younger have passed on,’’ he said.
“The likes of Dinny Hurley would spring to mind straightaway. He was involved in a lot of the underage teams I was on but he died nine years ago now. Henry Deane is another, he only passed away this year as well. Henry wasn’t involved in my teams, but he was a huge club man. He’d be the type of fella to ring you when things were going bad, when you had an injury or something, he’d ring you for a chat and to see how things were.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet that we’ve won. You’re almost looking forward to going to bed and waking up, knowing that you’ve won. Other years, you were dreading going to bed because you knew that when you woke up you’d have the realisation that you’ve lost an All-Ireland. That was tough going.”
Cork selector Terry O’Neill was born and reared on the tip of the Beara peninsula in Castletownbere but has spent the last 40 years of his life domiciled in Bantry. As he absorbed the sights and sounds last night, he emphasised what a special occasion it was for the town. “For Bantry, this would only happen once in a lifetime. Being realistic this might never happen again. I’ve been involved in football here since the mid 60s. We’ve had some great times but this is the best of all. It’s a marvellous occasion for Graham and his family.
“It’s great for the town in these recessionary times as it gives an uplift to everyone. I think that’s the same across the county since Sunday’s result. It would be disappointing to Bantry having won two counties in the 90s to be back down intermediate as a club now. But you’d hope would give inspiration to all the younger people in the town who look up to Graham and it shows what can be achieved if people are prepared to give the commitment to it.”
Bantry club chairman Pat Joe Connolly echoed the views of O’Neill. “It’s one of the greatest nights for our club. We had Declan Barron back in 1973 and Donal Hunt before that, and minor and U21 All-Ireland winners also. But to win the senior is very special with Graham the first Bantry man to lift Sam and the first West Cork native I think since Tadgh Crowley in 1945.”
The celebrations were not just confined to Bantry, with midfielder Alan O’Connor hailing from neighbouring club St Colum’s and selector Peadar Healy living in nearby Glengarriff.
“You can’t forget that on a night like this,” admitted O’Neill. “When St Colum’s got up and running first, they’d be associated more with hurling than football. When Alan was 11, his family came back to the birthplace of his father. It’s a credit to him and everyone in his locality on what he has achieved. Then Glengarriff is only 10 miles away, where the selector Peadar Healy is living. But any one that we win in the county is really sweet. I remember listening to radio commentaries as a young fella in Castletownbere in 1956 and 1957 when Cork lost both finals, and there’s been plenty disappointments. This is special. We’re in football country, when you go west of the viaduct in Cork City, this is the main game.
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