Martina Collins turned and quickly left the room before crying her eyes out in a quiet corner of the Garda station.
It was late 2018 and the 24-year-old Garda has returned to work shortly after Dohenys had suffered their third successive Cork LGFA junior B football championship county final loss.
First it was Aghada, then Glanmire but now, for the third time, defeat to Abhainn Dalla, and it was just too much to take for Collins.
On her return to work, her Garda colleagues had merely expressed their disappointment that she and her fellow squad members had come up short.
The heartbreak of losing two county finals was tough enough to deal with but three? Time to leave the room and deal with it one last time.
This was a new level of upset, a new level of despondency and despite having cried her eyes out in the days after their 2018 county final defeat, Collins was finding it difficult to move on. Who could blame her?
I was crying, Tony White was crying, Ruth Collins was crying but they were such happy tears. I can barely describe the feeling’ – Martina Collins, Doheny captain
Under Tony and Keith White, Dohenys had quickly become a force in West Cork and county ladies’ football circles. Unearthing a plethora of talented players across a wide age spectrum and producing one the county’s finest footballers in Melissa Duggan, the Dunmanway club rose from obscurity and made a name for themselves on the back of unbelievable dedication and hard work.
But getting over that county final hurdle was becoming an issue. If 2018 was a nadir, then 2019 was the year Dohenys finally came of age.
A horrible wet and windy October day in Kilmichael saw the West Cork club face off against Midleton in the Cork LGFA junior B football championship decider. It may have been a fourth consecutive county final appearance, but something felt different this time around.
The same set of players, yes, but a different mindset and one that would not countenance defeat. Not in another final. No way.
The record books will show that Dohenys edged a close game 0-9 to 0-8 but what those books won’t include is the unheralded outpouring of emotion at the final whistle. Lots of tears but happy ones this time around.
‘To be honest, I didn’t even hear the final whistle,’ Collins admitted.
‘I saw the girls jumping for joy. It was probably a feeling more of disbelief than anything else at that moment. I couldn’t believe that we had just kicked the winning point over the bar.
‘It was only a few seconds before that we had scored our last point. We were still celebrating that score when the final whistle went. So, none of us heard the final whistle go! It was overwhelming. Everybody was shaking, crying, laughing and jumping for joy. It was an unbelievable moment.’
Unbelievable, yes, but a richly deserved moment, nonetheless. In one afternoon, Dohenys eradicated the memory of three county final defeats and got to experience the other side of the coin on county final day.
‘For the previous three years we had been the ones shedding tears at the final whistle. This time around they were tears of joy,’ Collins commented.
‘I was crying, Tony White was crying, Ruth Collins was crying but they were such happy tears. I can barely describe the feeling.
‘Finny Collins came on board as a selector with us this year. I remember he spoke to us in the dressing room before we went out on the pitch. He said we can’t go back to the last three years and suffer those losses again. His words drove us on as he spoke about the Doheny junior hurlers losing all their finals before ending a long wait to claim the West Cork junior A championship.
‘We had to win it (county) now. It was our time. Finny was a different voice for us this past year because obviously Tony and Keith (White) had been with us since the start. They had and continue to be brilliant for the squad but adding Finny was a great move.’
Amid wild and lengthy celebrations, it was hard to believe that this gifted Dohenys panel had come up short on three earlier occasions. As enthusiastic and talented a squad in the West Cork region, Dohenys finally laid the ghost of their previous finals to rest. Not before time.
‘To be honest, looking back over the last three years, Aghada were the better team in the first final and Glanmire better again in the second county final. We know we let it go the third year against Abhainn Dalla though and that really stung,’ Collins said.
‘We knew we couldn’t leave it go against Midleton in this year’s final, no way. No team should be put through losing four county finals in a row, it’s too much. I remember going back to work last year after we lost our (third) county. I think it might have been two or three days after the game, but I was still crying.
‘Back into work I went and the lads, being kind, just said hard luck on losing. I had to leave the room because I started crying. It was still just pure and utter heartbreak. When knew we left it behind us and didn’t want to go back to Dunmanway without a cup.
‘That’s what made winning this year’s county junior B final against Midleton all the better. Knowing the feeling of heartbreak drove us on.’
Collins and Dohenys end 2019 as county champions. There is much to look forward to in 2020 and possibly even more happy tears to be shed.
VALUABLE LESSON: Dohenys held their nerve
One match will stick out when Dohenys reflect on 2019 and their Cork LGFA junior B county winning year.
A one-point West Cork Division 2 final victory over Castlehaven proved the catalyst Dohenys needed to go on and eventually claim a county title.
A closely fought local derby thrilled the supporters in attendance at Clonakilty and showed that the winners were capable of seeing out close matches, triumphing 1-9 to 1-8 following a see-saw encounter.
‘That victory over the Haven really stood to us,’ Dohenys captain Martina Collins said.
‘I think beating Castlehaven by a point taught us a valuable lesson about holding our nerve in tight games. We work on holding on to the ball during the last few minutes of practice games in training and that’s been a big benefit. That helped us against Castlehaven because over the last few years we were guilty of panicking, making silly mistakes and giving the ball away.
‘That West Cork final was important because it showed we could do it under pressure from a very good Castlehaven team. That final was one of the most exciting games we played in and it stood to us. When the time came, we didn’t panic in the junior B county final against Midleton.’