NOT since 2015 – when they lost to Nemo Rangers after a replayed final – have Castlehaven been involved at the last-four stage of the county senior football championship.
They will aim to make it back to the decider when they take on Duhallow in Sunday’s semi-final clash at Páirc Uí Chaoimh (2.15pm) and manager Liam Collins believes that greater availability of key players has been of benefit this year.
While nobody in the Haven camp would ever want Cork to lose, the earlier exit of the footballers allowed them access to Brian and Michael Hurley and Mark Collins and the change in scheduling of the hurling meant that Damien Cahalane has been with the team since the end of July.
‘When you have your squad together for longer, you’ll always benefit,’ Collins says.
‘We had Damien sooner than we did this time last year, that week or two makes a big difference and even though he was with the St Finbarr’s hurlers too, we still saw a lot more of him.
‘Having Mark, Michael and Brian around for a longer period was a big help as well. The downside is that Conor Cahalane hasn’t been involved too much, he picked up a bit of a virus and is still struggling but otherwise we’re in good shape.
‘If you’re still training at this time of the year – which we haven’t been for a while – you’ll be happy.’
The Haven come into the game on the back of the 1-11 to 0-4 win over Nemo Rangers a fortnight ago. Having been a teak-tough full-back before taking on the manager’s role, Collins has seen a lot of football and that game was something new, even for him.
‘Nemo were very un-Nemo-like,’ he says.
‘It’s rare that things go wrong for them, but things went very wrong in that game. It’s probably hard for them to put a finger on it, a whole load of different small things.
‘In saying that, we were just looking to get to a semi-final, we didn’t mind what way we got through, you still have to play well when you beat Nemo.
‘Early in the game, you wouldn’t have been too happy with our shot selection but Michael Hurley’s goal really got the confidence going and the shots became easier to score after that, everyone settled down.
‘As well as that, Nemo had to push on to get back into the game and that opened up spaces for us.’
Castlehaven had gone into that Nemo game on the back of two weeks in a row against CIT, having drawn first time out. Ultimately, those matches helped to bring them up to sharpness.
‘Over the summer, it’s very hard to get competitive games at that level, especially when you’re in Division 2 like we are,’ Collins says.
‘We had a few league games but they were nowhere near the intensity of the CIT matches, they have excellent players and play very good football.
‘The first day, they put us to the pin of our collar and we were lucky to get the draw, but the lads dug deep and then improved in the replay.’
Improving game by game is a mantra Collins and his management team live by, having taken over at the start of 2017.
‘I don’t think the approach has been hugely different this year,’ he says, ‘but you’re always learning.
‘Last year, Carbery Rangers beat us and we learned a lot from that, we didn’t take opportunities when they were there and we were beaten by a better team.
‘You take it on the chin and come back stronger, we had run one of the best teams in the county close whereas the previous year Ballincollig beat us by a big score. There were a lot of new faces and it was a case of making sure they learned too.’
A clash with Duhallow will call to mind the 2012 county final, which the Haven won thanks to Shane Nolan’s late goal.
Collins had the number 3 shirt on his back that day and he knows that the north-western division won’t give anything easy.
‘Any time we ever play Duhallow, there’s only the minimum between the teams,’ he says.
‘The workrate has to be at a very high level and you need a few breaks too.
‘We’ll be expecting Duhallow to come at us all guns blazing and we have to match that on the day.’