Tomorrow afternoon Sarsfields of Cork take the field against Limerick champions Kilmallock in the Munster club championship.
It’s Sars’ fourth voyage in the provincial competition in the last seven years, a golden age of success by any standards. Tadhg Murphy, the Sars chairman, can remember when silverware wasn’t found in Glanmire as often.
He says it conformed to the stereotype of the rural outpost for many years, before the growing city absorbed it: “There was a local village mentality for a long time, we were a small place outside the city and I suppose survival was the main concern in the early days.”
That doesn’t mean they never got to see the bright lights: in the 30’s Sars got to a county senior final, and they won the Cork senior hurling championship in 1951 and 1957, when it was a savagely competitive forum.
After that there was a long hiatus, though. Murphy’s own playing career came in that spell, when the emphasis was very different.
“I played senior for the club from 1974 to 1999 and we never won a senior county. I suppose at that time it was about maintaining the tradition and ensuring we kept our senior status. It was important to stay a senior club and we managed to do that. We made the county final in1989 but although we lost the game itself, that was a big year in other ways.”
When Sars made that decider 25 years ago they didn’t own a blade of grass, as Murphy puts it. The field was leased and the club felt it was time they controlled their own destiny.
“We were conscious too that there were estates being built in the area, that you had new people coming in and that the population generally was going to expand. We wanted to be able to offer those new people and their kids a focal point, to give them good facilities and to attract them to the club.”
Since then they’ve spent over €2 million on pitches, clubhouse and all-weather facilities. When you roll into Sars during the evening the all-weather pitches are buzzing with activity and the fields are overrun with kids.
“It’s been a challenge,” says Murphy, “creating those facilities, and it continues to be a challenge but we’ve met it head-on. There’s a huge community focus on the club, but obviously the success on the field helps with that.”
They knew they had a good crop coming. In 2007 they won a county minor title, and a few of those youngsters were sprinkled through the following year’s senior team, which won the county title. Since then they’ve won another three titles, including this year’s decider. It validated their intentions with their underage section.
“It was great to win that first county,” says Murphy. “And to win more since. We had decided when we were working on providing good facilities that we’d concentrate on underage and making sure we worked hard there, and in fairness we’ve always been lucky enough to have very good people willing to help out. It wasn’t just a matter of success, either. We wanted to make sure we got kids participating, that there was an enjoyable environment there for them we always felt that if we got that part of the equation right that the success would follow, and it has.”
Like any club enjoying such success, Sars are keen to make the most of their day in the sun on and off the field.
“Those minors from 2007 the players from that underage group are all mature players now, and we have other younger players coming through to provide the balance.
Murphy isn’t just talking up the underage section when he says Sars have young players coming through, by the way, given that they won the minor hurling county again this year.
The blue, black and white conveyor belt shows no signs of stopping just yet.
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