GAA history was made at Páirc Uí Rinn on Saturday evening, when Russell Rovers celebrated a first adult county championship success.
Having come up short in the Cork junior hurling decider the previous weekend, the small East Cork club, which pulls from the villages of Ballycotton, Shanagarry and Churchtown South, defeated Castletownbere to secure the Cork JBFC inter-divisional crown.
Of the 21 players who featured in the 3-15 to 1-10 win over the Beara club, 16 had played in the 2-12 to 0-14 hurling final defeat to Cloughduv.
With such a sizeable crossover between the two squads, the decision was made at the end of last year to put one man, Michael Mannion, in charge of both codes.
He enlisted Frank Flannery to train the hurlers, the former Cork coach pointing out that if they were going with one manager, they may as well have just one coach also. Leaving aside the hurling final reverse, it was a formula which reaped a tidy collection of silverware.
“When I contacted Frank last year it would have been to get him involved with our hurlers. A collective decision was then taken that it made more sense for him to coach both sides,” said manager Mannion.
It guaranteed that all potential clashes would be avoided, as we were in control of both codes. We had only one person on our football squad, Anthony Archer, 38-years of age and a veteran of 22 campaigns, who didn’t play hurling. That’s how strong the crossover was.
Mannion doesn’t hide the fact that hurling was their chief focus throughout the season.
A first East Cork hurling title was bagged on the second weekend of September, a first county final appearance secured little over a month later. Saturday’s football success, during which Chris Ruddy kicked eight points and Brian Hartnett banged in 2-1, was very much an unexpected bonus.
“Our target in the football was to win the East Cork championship. We hadn’t won it since 1986. We knew that if we gave it any bit of attention at all, that we’d definitely give it a rattle. It was a bonus to win the county. It wasn’t our main objective, but we’ll definitely take it. The fitness from the hurling was crucial to us winning the football.
“It is massive for the club to win a first adult county championship. Between training sessions and matches across the two codes, we are up to 110 get-togethers. I am delighted for the players. They didn’t get their main target, but at least they finish the year with a county medal and two East Cork titles,” said Mannion, who is sure 2018 will not prove to be a once-off:
“The players now know what it takes to get to a county final and to win one. I can see them really going for it again next year.”
Before signing off for the year, they have an East Cork hurling league final, against Seamus Harnedy’s St Ita’s.