AIB MUNSTER SHC SEMI-FINAL:
Austin Stacks (Kerry) v Ballincollig (Cork)
Four weeks on and still the club’s maiden senior football title governs "village" conversation.
John Miskella, try as he might, can’t escape it. Every man, woman and child of Ballincollig blood has interest only for the events of October 19.
The 36-year-old was honoured as the October recipient of the Southside and District Sports Star awards last week, selected at right half-forward on the Reardens club All Stars team on Monday night.
He’s had his fill as far as dinners and awards functions are concerned, his ears burnt by suited dignitaries recounting that famous victory over Carbery Rangers.
The first week of celebrations are all but a blur now, every pub from Healy’s to the Inniscarra Bar visited. Patrick Kelly’s stag on the Bank Holiday weekend saw the session move up the N18 to Galway, the revelry concluding in a dinky nightclub at the bottom of Shop Street in the wee hours of Monday morning.
“We left the Andy Scannell in Ballincollig. It would only have got lost up in Galway. We can barely mind ourselves, never mind the cup,” chuckles Miskella.
During his intercounty career, the Clonakilty based Garda pocketed four Munster football medals, three league crowns and one Celtic Cross. The events of October 19 trumped them all.
“Playing with Cork, we were always one of the favourites every year. With Ballincollig, that was never the case. People were waiting for you to slip up, to exit tamely. When the final whistle went I knew this was a feeling I had never before experienced. It was the best sporting feeling I ever had. If we were winning county titles every five or six years that wouldn’t have been the case. But this was our first county title in the club’s 128-year history. To be part of that team is special. Standing in the lorry and looking out on the hundreds of people who had come out to congratulate us on the Sunday evening is something that will stay with you for life. I saw people on that Sunday night that I hadn’t seen for 10, 20 years. I played with them 10, 15 years ago and to see them all down at the clubhouse, and everyone delighted, was fantastic. I saw people I hadn’t seen since our days at U10 and that is a good while ago now. Others had played senior football with me 10 years ago, but bowed out with no success. This victory was for all those who toiled over the years. It was a pleasure to bring happiness to so many.
“The night absolutely flew. That was the only problem. You dream about nights like that Sunday. You remember them. You drive on and hopefully get more of them. You have to know the club to know why it felt so good, meant to so much. This club has never had much success, I certainly had no success in the Ballincollig shirt. Our record at senior level since we were promoted at the end of 1994 was shocking. This was our first time getting to a county final and winning it on our first effort was fantastic. It was unparalleled the celebrations, but perhaps that is because I know I am at the end of my tether. I was talked into playing this year. By God am I happy I allowed my arm be twisted.”
Miskella wasn’t ready to pack it in last winter, but he was unsure as to how he could contribute. The body ached. The surgeries underwent in the past decade were catching up.
He couldn’t risk committing himself to the gruelling pre-season slogging. League and challenge games weren’t of massive interest for fear of picking up the slightest knock.
“I am not exactly what I was,” he says. “The manager this year (Michael O’Brien), I know him very well. I had grown up with Mickey, played football all the way up along with him. He was centre-back and I was wing-back for a good number of years at senior level. He was the best man at my wedding. He didn’t give me an option. He said I would be either on the pitch or on the sideline as part of management. I said I would get much more enjoyment out of playing, or at least trying to play, than I would as part of the backroom team. I held up surprisingly well.
“I don’t have to tell anyone it was the right decision, because I know it was the right decision. Pulling back at various stages during the summer is what I have been doing for the last two years. This year I did feck all pre-season training. The lads did massive pre-season fitness training, I would have gone down on only one or two nights. I had to look after myself, make sure my body was alright for when the football started. If something was wrong, if I had pain, I would skip training, league or challenges. Championship was the be all and end all. That is what I had to be right for.
“There is a lot of pain after every match, but that comes with age. That goes away by the following Thursday and you are ready to rock again. I have been very lucky. I didn’t expect to come through this year so easy.”
And so to tomorrow’s clash with Austin Stacks, bonus territory, unchartered territory.
“We are not going to come off after losing to Stacks and say well we still had a great season. There will be nothing but hurt if we lose. Donaghy has had a great year. His size and physical ability poses a threat around the box. We will no doubt have something prepared. If he dominates a game, he will hurt you. We have more than a couple of players who they will have to keep an eye on as well.
“We have tried to keep everything the same in our preparations, but I would be lying if I said the buzz wasn’t greater.”
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