After years of torture and torment, the Mid Kerry club finally struggles over a major psychological hurdle to claim its first Kerry Junior football title, writes Tony Leen
There’s only miserable reference points to build this story of joy, happiness and relief for Glenbeigh-Glencar.
Theirs is a tale of disproportionate bad luck and heart-breaking near misses. By any metric, the village football team on the rim of the Ring of Kerry has been kicked in the teeth more than a badly bred mutt.
Words and deeds. When they couldn’t get over the line and win a Kerry Junior football championship — even though all logic indicated they should — they started taking more notice of the words they were using. And, perhaps, one they shouldn’t.
No thesis or research paper could distil Glenbeigh-Glencar’s climb to just one piseóg, one swing of a boot. No-one doubts the talent or playing squad that carried them to the lofty heights of Division One football in Kerry. Perhaps 2016 was just their time.
Maybe the soothing influence of manager Aidan O’Shea was the extra percent or two. After the losses, by the merest margins in the closing moments of semi-finals and finals since 2012, maybe the gods of the junior grade convened and decreed they had suffered plenty.
But Glenbeigh-Glencar didn’t know that.
So they stopped using the word ‘Junior’. They stopped referring to the championship grade that continued to deny and defy them, right back to the semi-final loss in 2012 by a point to Kenmare, to the 2013 final against Keel, when in injury time a “dubious” penalty was awarded against them and instead of taking a point and a replay, Keel’s Liam Sheehan goaled, via the post and a deflection off the back of Glenbeigh-Glencar keeper Peter O’Sullivan.
Or to the 2014 Championship semi-final in Killarney, a long, desperate punt into the Glenbeigh-Glencar square flicked to the net by Shane Curtin of Brosna, who trailed by two points with time up.
They tanked against Templenoe in the 2015 final, beaten birds. And so this year players were just told ‘we’ve championship Sunday’.
“The word ‘junior’ was probably the most used around Glenbeigh and Glencar for five or six years. It would put the shivers down your spine,” says Aidan O’Shea now. The 31-year-old manager is a quietly spoken teacher of easy authority who commands respect as a son of Jack O’Shea should.
Except Aidan O’Shea enjoys a status in the Glenbeigh dressing room that has nothing to do with his lineage. Robbed by injury of a playing career that had him talked up in green and gold in his early 20s, many of his players have never seen him kick a ball. But he has a perceptive edge to him that they all respond to. He calls a spade a spade.
“People were just getting too hung up on that word. We were unlucky on certain occasions in junior finals, but we were poor other days. Some days we had hardship, other days we just didn’t turn up. When they keep piling up on top of each other, the pressure does rack up. It was like a black cloud over us in Glenbeigh-Glencar.”
The goalkeeper in that 2013 loss to Keel, Peter O’Sullivan is not only a selector of O’Shea’s with John Dorgan. He’s also secretary of the GAA club. He frets as much over the club’s under-age structure as he does the senior team for the county final, but he too felt the pressure from beyond the village in 2016.
“People would be whispering, outsiders mainly. ‘How come Glenbeigh can’t win a Junior championship?’ It filters through, it creates its own pressure. The seed is there.”
If one was moved to conjure a cocktail of the ingredients that finally made Glenbeigh-Glencar champions this year, the recipe would be thick with persistence, perseverance. And luck.
“Maybe luck was the difference this year,” the club’s progressive chairman Aidan Roche remarked this week. “I was at it for 22 years as a player and never won a junior county. Now my son Sean (corner back) has one already.
“You need luck. We played great football in past campaigns and got no luck. This year, the luck was with us. When we won in Kerry, the pressure (for the Munster Championship) was off straight away. Everything else was a bonus after getting that monkey off our back.
“We went into finals, we were so up for them, so well prepared, then the defeats would knock you down, the whole village, everyone’s chin is on the ground. Now it’s the total opposite, head high and chest out.”
Darran O’Sullivan, the club’s marquee name, said something the week before the Munster final against Cork’s Gabriel Rangers, Glenbeigh-Glencar’s last game of a marathon season, that lingered. “We’ll talk to you after Sunday. We have a habit of getting ahead of ourselves in this club.”
The Keel man who plunged the knife into their hopes in 2013 understands O’Sullivan’s thinking. No one would ever say Glenbeigh-Glencar had a soft centre but...
“I sometimes thought as a team they tended to take their foot off the pedal, that they didn’t keep it going for 60 minutes,” says Liam Sheehan, now a teacher in Rochestown College. “In that final against Keel, they were asleep at the start and that would be our chance. When we used train with (divisional senior side) Mid Kerry, the Keel lads would be thinking ‘Look at the talent Glenbeigh-Glencar have, how are they not winning a Junior championship?”
Especially when they’ve successfully acclimatised to life in the rarefied company of Dr Crokes, Austin Stacks, Dingle et al in Division One of the Kerry County League. Incredibly, they defeated Crokes in the league this season, the only side to do so. Their lofty league status furrows brows outside the Kingdom and raises questions about the grading system in Kerry. The answer is less convoluted than one would think: a club cannot be promoted to the intermediate grade until it wins the junior championship.
Two seasons in the top flight has underpinned Glenbeigh-Glencar’s scaffolding. It’s also steeled them for those tight games they’ve been losing when it mattered most.
Midfielder Fergal Griffin is 32 now, and has spent half his life playing with Glenbeigh’s seniors. “Beating Crokes gave us a big impetus. Playing a higher standard, it helps the younger players, keeps fellas coming down from Cork and Limerick to play. But they are two different ball games, league and championship. You’d always hear the jibes here and there before championship. And we hadn’t done the business in the Junior. That’s fact.”
Aidan O’Shea sees another major benefit in duking it out with the big boys in Division 1 for the last two years. “We are the small fish and you have to dog it out at times. Then the following week, you could be playing junior championship when you are the big fish. It’s an advantage to how we set up that we have been seeing it from both sides of the coin. We’ve had plenty of practice of being up against it and also when we were the ones taking the game to opposition. We finished the 2015 season on January 16th this year by winning the Mid Kerry Championship, at one stage we played eleven weeks in a row. But we took breaks, sometimes coasting from game to game. Mentally we finished the season fresh.”
And exhilarated. Though they lost their Mid Kerry crown, they end 2016 as Kerry and Munster Junior champions and a player in SFL Division 1.
“As a rural club we probably punch above our weight in the Co League,” Peter O’Sullivan, selector and secretary admits. “Clubs like us will only get four or five years in Division 1, so to get three already is huge and probably one of the key reasons we’ve eventually had this success.”
The flight from the land is acute in South Kerry. At minor grade, many clubs play as amalgamations, and Glenbeigh-Glencar’s numbers are tight. Hence the tie up with Cromane. O’Sullivan knows they’ve no minor coming through to senior this season, but the senior age profile is modest enough for it not to be an immediate concern. It’s there though. “You’d still be looking for the few older guys to hang on until you were able to blend in the lads to replace them.”
It also means that inter-county representation is a double-edged sword. Caolan Teahan with the Kerry minors, and Darran O’Sullivan and Pa Kilkenny with the seniors was a factor in Glenbeigh-Glencar losing their first three Division One games this year. A turning point came with Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s decision to let Kilkenny back to his club.
“I don’t think we’d have stayed up if we hadn’t got Pa back,” says chairman Aidan Roche.
His manager concurs: “Pa gave us another weapon. He was down after being cut by Kerry, but he’s only 23. We had a chat, he put his head down for the club, and was definitely a big reason we got the results to stay in Division One.”
There was another imperative. The club knew it had to capitalise on a splurge of young talent that brought it four divisional U21 titles. Since it lost a junior county final to Kilcummin 25 years ago (by a point), the good Sundays were few and easy to remember. In 2002, the club was a Division 5 outfit, but two years after they won a Novice Championship and pushed up to Division 3. A foothold.
In 2011 came the turn. A first Mid Kerry championship in 36 years makes chairman Aidan Roche smile now. He had 25 attempts and never got the better of local powerhouses Laune Rangers, Milltown-Castlemaine and Beaufort. They’ve won another couple since. And each time they set sights anew on one other peak, the final climb.
“The struggles I’m facing,
sometimes might knock me down
but no I’m not breaking”
– The Climb, Miley Cyrus
Thrice in this year’s remodelled Premier Junior Championship in Kerry, Glenbeigh-Glencar almost came unstuck. They edged St Pat’s of Blennerville 2-15 to 3-11 and needed everything to see off Ballydonoghue by three in the semi-final.
The final against Na Gaeil, of Division 4, was the perfect storm for the raging favourites. The small Tralee club’s biggest asset was the psychological baggage the Mid Kerry men brought to the decider.
Plus the fact that Na Gaeil manager Donal Rooney had the good on Glenbeigh-Glencar, having watched them three times. “We knew that if Na Gaeil were going to win the championship,we’d have to beat Glenbeigh-Glencar,” he says now. “They’ve been the standout team at this level for the last five years.”
Whether it was a compliment to Na Gaeil’s attack or their own haunting insecurities, Glenbeigh-Glencar lined up to counter the opposition rather than win a final, in Rooney’s opinion.
“When we looked at things we could target, the fact that Glenbeigh had lost a lot of those finals was mentioned but not over-played. Looking back now, it was there alright. They changed their team to counter us in the first game whereas in the replay they definitely showed more confidence in their own ability.”
Aidan O’Shea, the manager, is sanguine about the drawn final. “We didn’t play well. We coughed up possession right at the end having been a couple of points ahead with a few minutes to go. We took a bit of stick when we got back to the village, fellas thought it was the same old problem with us, but getting out of there with a replay was an achievement. It was a bad game of football, but we didn’t care when we got out of it alive.”
They did. Barely. Two crazy red cards at the start of the second half forced them into a defensive shape with only Darran O’Sullivan as an outlet. They managed to steady things and creep three points in front with one minute left.
And still they failed to close the deal. Na Gaeil got three points in injury time to force a replay.
In the end, Glenbeigh-Glencar exorcised the Junior Championship demons as one would expect — by almost falling over the line in the replay. The scoreline looked convincing, 1-16 to 0-12, but Aidan Roche admits that even with an eight-point lead, the final five minutes were hell.
“The tension was brutal. There’s been so many near things, you’re almost waiting for something bad to happen.”
“You have to go out and win a championship,” Fergal Griffin nods. “They don’t get handed out because they pity you.”
Added Peter O’Sullivan: “The sense of relief the day we won it against Na Gaeil. Wow. We were well ahead but never actually comfortable. The bit of experience from past disappointments got us over the line.”
Na Gaeil’s Rooney gives them more credit. “I think in the end they just said ‘Feck it, let’s play to our strengths’. They put Pa Kilkenny back in centre-back and played on the front foot.”
Glenbeigh-Glencar now have the silverware to go with the structure. They’re well set, “in rude health”, believes midfielder Fergal Griffin, now preparing for a 17th year at the bridge.
“There’s a very good committee in charge, Aidan is progressive as chairman, very supportive of the players. Great facilities, stands, gyms, hall. It all helps, but you’re only keeping up with the other clubs in Mid Kerry. If you don’t improve, you are going backwards.”
A new climb awaits.
Aidan O’Shea and the pain game
GLENBEIGH-GLENCAR: ROUND BY ROUND
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