Back in April, Aghinagh were within touching distance of claiming the Féile Peil B title.
They led Ballinascarthy as the final in Páirc Uí Rinn moved into injury-time, only to lose to a wonder-goal.
That defeat, coming off the back of the 2013 U13 county final loss to Canovee, could have decimated confidence. Instead they came back stronger. In July, Fr O’Neill’s were beaten in the Rebel Óg Eastern U14 final, and they would repeat that feat in the league decider.
The county final presented the chance of a rematch with Ballinascarthy and this time Aghinagh wouldn’t be denied, winning 3-7 to 1-6. The club’s underage chairman Matt Ó Laoghaire — this week celebrating the club’s selection as the November recipient of the Rebel Óg monthly awards — believes the team’s mental strength is just as important as their playing skills.
“Since this team started at eight years old, they’ve only lost about four games in total,” he said.
“They were unlucky that one of those was the U13 county final last year and the other one was the Féile final this year. It was brilliant to come back from having had two defeats like that to do a clean sweep this year.
“They’re a tough gang. They’ve got themselves out of holes on a lot of occasions and, to be honest, we’re probably punching above our weight at B level. We would still have four U12s starting and the subs coming on are U12 too so we have done fantastically well to win a county.”
Choosing from smaller catchment area means that resources can be tight at times, but Ó Laoghaire also feels that there’s a driving force within the club to prove they can mix it with the bigger clubs.
“That’s definitely there, we have to fight to punch above our weight,” he said. “They’re a team that has a winning habit and you can never rule out any team that has that.
“They were down seven points with 15 minutes left against Granard Gaels in the county semi-final and they came back to win it, probably the best performance of the year. There was a never-say-die attitude, they’re not willing to be beaten at all.”
Such successes provide a template for other underage teams within the club, and not just the younger ones.
“It even drives it into the lads a year or two older than them because they’re a bit jealous of the attention, in a good way,” Ó Laoghaire said.
“Our U16s were quite unlucky this year, they might have won a few trophies but it was just that they had a few injuries and in a small club that’s going to have a big effect.”
As important as the players are, having the right people on the sideline is vital too, Ó Laoghaire feels.
“As much as our playing pool is small, our coaching pool is smaller,” he laughed.
“We’re very lucky, we’ve always had a lot of willing, helpful parents and we try to mix it up then too. Mike [Crowley] came in this year with the U14s, even though they had been successful all the way through, we felt that they needed a new voice, just to freshen it a small bit.
“Whatever inch gets you over the line, that’s what you want.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved