'You have to have lived through the heartbreak to appreciate what it means when you make it'

Mayo aren’t the only team in Ireland trying to end a famine, you know. Some club teams in the Rebel County enjoyed reaching the promised land last weekend, as Michael Moynihan found out 

Man of the match David Murphy after Banteer defeated Kilbrin in the Duhallow Junior A hurling final at Newmarket, last Sunday. Picture Dan Linehan

This was a good week for the Banteer hurlers. Last Saturday they broke a pretty unfortunate sequence, after all.

“We last won the Duhallow junior championship in 2006,” says club chairman Kevin Roche.

“Since then we’ve lost finals in 2008, 2009, 2012, 2014 and last year with the bulk of the same team involved.

“To get over the line last Saturday was . . . that was our All-Ireland final, really. It meant everything to win one after all of that.”

Roche says they mined benefits from those defeats to help last weekend’s final win over Kilbrin: “At the back of your mind you’d be thinking, ‘will we ever get there’ because we had so many near misses over the years, but the spirit was massive. Lads kept coming back to the well year after year, season after season.

“And there were advantages. We’d been to the final so many times there were no huge nerves. Obviously you’d have a few butterflies, that’s only natural, but most of the lads have been to the well a good few times, and I don’t think anyone would say - regarding our losses - that we never turned up on any of those occasions.

“We always gave a performance but on those occasions we were beaten by a better team. Kilbrin beat us in the last three finals, for instance, and they’re a fine team. Beating them in the final last weekend made it all the sweeter.”

The sweetness didn’t come with any sour aftertaste. Roche described Kilbrin as “top class” last weekend.

“They could see what it meant to us after those near misses, and there’s never been any animosity between the clubs anyway.

“The Kilbrin coach and chairman came into our dressing-room afterwards and spoke unbelievably well, in fairness. That wouldn’t be anything new. Seanie O’Gorman was coaching them in 2012 and the way he spoke after that final, what he said to us, that’ll live long in my memory. Seanie got a bit of a knock last week and everyone in Banteer is wishing him all the best, he’s a top class man and Kilbrin are a great club.”

Sounding a note echoed by other clubs in a similar situation, Roche says it’s encouraging for Banteer as they look down the line.

“In 2006 we won the championship and thought it might be easy going forward, but it’s taken us until this year to win another title.

“The celebrations were great, but it’s also a huge boost for us going into the future. We always felt if we won a final we could kick on, so we hope this will help the young lads coming through for us. I played in county finals and Fitzgibbon finals, but I put this above anything that I played in before.”

Roche namechecks the people who helped Banteer along the way: “The management team - Noel Kearney, Eoin O’Mahony, Mike O’Connor and Colin Philpott - deserve huge credit, while the likes of John Hartnett of Millstreet, Danny O’Donoghe from Kanturk, Dermot Riordan of Mallow - they trained us for years and did massive work. Dinny Withers, Martin Barry and Jimmy Murphy are locals who have worked hard for years. Then there’s Eamonn Tarrant and Sons and EPS, our sponsors, and the White Country Inn, our local pub. We’re just a small club. I’m 27 and I’m the chairman, my brother’s the treasurer and he’s a year older, we’re still playing . . . it’s just all about the club, you know?”

BRIAN O’Donovan would agree. Last week he saw his own club, Kilmacabea, win their first-ever West Cork Junior A Football championship. As the clock wound down to 60 minutes the PRO wasn’t counting his chickens.

Quiet moment: Kilmacabea manager Kevin O’Driscoll gets a hug from his daughter Maggie after defeating Kilbrittain in the Carbery JAFC final at Clonakilty: Picture Eddie O’Hare

“Knowing our history we weren’t going to be one hundred per cent sure. We got the first score and then cut loose, we got 2-4 without reply in ten minutes. I thought at that time ‘this has to be our day’, but we relaxed a bit - we made sloppy mistakes and Kilbrittain got 1-3 before half-time to cut the margin to four. It was noticeable, though, that our lads never panicked. In previous years we’d have kicked the ball away or started a fight or something silly, but this group of players never panicked.

“Even when Kilbrittain got back to within two points with ten minutes to go, in previous years we’d have collapsed, the heads would have gone down, but we went back up the field and got another point to put three between us. Then I was thinking, ‘yeah, we have it now’. Getting that point was the critical score, to me.”

The timing wasn’t always great for Kilmacabea down the years. Whenever they put out a decent combination together the neighbours were in their pomp.

“We had good teams down the years,” says O’Donovan. “Go back to the early seventies, we had a very good football team, we won the West Cork Junior B championship in 1973 and went up to Junior A in 1974.

“At the time, though, Dohenys, Bantry, Bandon and Castlehaven were all very strong, with Castlehaven eventually becoming a senior powerhouse. We were just unlucky in terms of having a good team when so many other teams were strong. Going into the eighties we had lads drift away and we were lucky to keep going, with emigration so bad. We went back to Junior B. Things started to turn in the nineties with an U21 title, and we had players on the All-Ireland colleges-winning St Fachtna’s team in 1991 coming through as well.

“We won the West Cork Junior B in 1994 and beat Lough Rovers in the Junior B county final.”

Promotion to Junior A brought Kilmacabea up against another generation of powerful clubs - Caheragh, Ilen Rovers and Carbery Rangers among them: more graduates to the senior ranks. They never lost the faith, though.

“We always felt the breakthrough would come. Over the years the hop of a ball or the width of a post came against us, but we never doubted we’d do it - that the effect on the club and the parish would be massive. And it has, too. Since last Sunday evening everyone’s got a smile on their face, all the talk is about football - even among lads you know never go to a football game - but what I took from the game in particular, or the aftermath, was the delight on the faces of all the underage players.

“They can aspire to succeeding now themselves. We’re playing in Blarney this evening against Kilworth in the county championship but the monkey is off our back now. There’s no pressure and whatever happens from now on is a bonus.”

ROLLING through Buttevant lately you probably clocked plenty of black and amber on the main street. That heralded the local side making a north Cork final - but in football, not hurling.

Buttevant captain Micheal Broe raises the trophy after they defeated Kilworth.

“It would always have been a hurling club, with lads winning All-Irelands in hurling rather than football,” says club officer Brian O’Shaughnessy. “Now there was always an interest, and some brilliant footballers came through the ranks without ever reaching their potential for whatever reason. To be fair, the club would always have supported football. The attitude here would be that if a team is wearing the Buttevant colours, whatever it’s playing, then we’ll support it. I’m only 22 and can remember as a kid going to Buttevant hurling games rather than football games, but through hard work and training football has come to the fore.

“In the late nineties and 2000s we had some good coaches getting involved who improved football - the likes of Michael O’Neill and Pat Spratt, Joey O’Hanlon and Tony Stack, while there were other guys who’ve been involved for years and years, the likes of John Buckley. The fact that John was involved last Saturday, after all the years, was very special.

O’Shaughnessy can trace the renaissance of football in the club not just to a particular age group, but to one specific game.

“The age group I played in won at U11, U12 and U13, and then we played in the A grade against the likes of Mallow.

“But we played U16 Premier against Bantry Blues at one stage down in Ballyvourney. Guys like John O’Neill, Ryan Fowley and Denis O’Sullivan, who played last Sunday, were playing that day in Ballyvourney even though they were a couple of years below the age.

“We were beaten that day but we put it up to them in a big way, and that focused lads. Afterwards we kicked on. The belief stemmed from performances like that.” Last weekend they faced another club associated with hurling, Kilworth.

“They’ve been a bit of a bogey team for us at minor and U21 level over the years. We were probably the better team overall in the final but could never get away from them until we got the second goal, which was really the killer. There was some lovely football played but it was hard work got that second goal - they tried a short kick-out but Seamus Madigan turned it over, hounding his man, and when he gave it to Ryan Fowley there was nobody going to catch him.”

The celebrations were epic, with an equally epic purging (“Two good nights, but we had a tough training session on Tuesday. Mother of God. Corporal punishment.”). O’Shaughnessy’s highlight from the celebrations will resonate in Banteer and Kilmacabea.

“The best part was what people got out of it. Anyone coming through Buttevant recently would have seen the colours up, flags and posters and bunting, kids wearing the jersey. And after the game we came through Buttevant and it was a bit of a Healy-Rae scene, we walked up the town with pitchforks and torches, a massive crowd, and the underage ahead of the team carrying the cup. It was very, very special.

“Joey O’Hanlon was the manager and coach, John Buckley - the patron of Buttevant football for thirty years - and Aidan O’Connor were selectors and Eoin Carroll did the fitness. And Joey’s sons, Conor, David and Stephen didn’t miss a training session all year.

Brian O’Donovan of Kilmacabea probably summed it up best for all three clubs: “At the end the feeling was utter, utter joy for all the lads. And for all the lads who played over the years, because it was what we were trying to achieve for so long.

“Two of the lads must be playing for twenty years, to see the emotion on their faces afterwards . . . even having the crowd come out on the field afterwards was unbelievable. You have to have lived through the near misses and the heartbreak to appreciate what it means when you make it, then.”

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