SEAN O’Leary has had strangers approach him on the street to congratulate him on Beara Community School’s recent football success.
It’s the players that deserve the plaudits, he insists, not him.
This is a team effort. The school, the coaches, the players and the local clubs came together, committed to working hard and the end result is that the Beara secondary school in Castletownbere are now Munster senior (U19) D football champions.
It’s a welcome good news story for Beara football.
‘Coming from where we came from, having lost the first round the year before, this was huge progress – but they got the results because they committed ,’ Beara Community School teacher O’Leary explained.
The Whiddy Island man is better known as a Bantry Blues’ footballer, and a former Cork minor and U21, but he’s making an impact on the sideline too with his school.
Last year, Beara Community School lost the Munster U16.5 final to Cahir. This year the school’s senior team went one step further. It started with a 4-14 to 2-5 win against Coláiste Mhuire Askeaton. Then they hammered Ard Scoil Na Mara Tramore by 5-15 to 2-5, followed by another convincing performance as they defeated Hazelwood College Dromcollogher, 3-14 to 0-7. That catapulted Beara CS into a Munster semi-final against Ballyvourney (including Cork U20 Aodhán Ó Luasa) played at Dr Crokes pitch in Killarney – that was a real test, as O’Leary explained.
‘The semi-final was a massive one,’ he said.
‘We eventually won by five points and it was a sensational game of football.
‘It was a cracker that could have gone either way.’
It went Beara’s way. They won 3-8 to 1-9. It was onto the Munster final next.
Everyone has bought into this. They had to for it to work. Now they’re getting the rewards.
In the ongoing Beara GAA Strategic Review, the local schools were identified as an area for improvement.
‘The buy-in from the clubs was very important,’ O’Leary said.
‘They came to us, asked us what we needed, we told them and that included us asking for Wednesdays to be left for us to train because we have a half day in the school.’
That wish was granted.
The buy-in from the players was even more important. Footballers from Castletownbere, Urhan, Adrigole and Garnish feed into the school.
‘The lads have fully committed and they gave us their all in every training session and in every game,’ O’Leary said.
‘They put in the work and they have got the rewards.
‘Most of them are playing in low grades with their clubs and that’s down to numbers more so than anything else.
‘When they come together now with Beara, they have this groundwork behind them.’
O’Leary sees the players in the classroom as students and on the pitch as footballers, and he has watched them grow in both, pointing to the Munster D final against Meán Scoil Castlegregory as one example.
‘I remember being in the dressing-room in Fitzgerald Stadium for the final and it was the young fellas who were taking charge – and it was great to see them take on that leadership,’ he said.
Memories were made that magical day in Killarney.
An early Beara blitz rocked the Kerry school. Ben O’Sullivan from Urhan struck for a goal as they surged 1-2 to 0-0 ahead. By half time they led 1-5 to 0-1, having played with the wind.
Captain Alan Elphick from Urhan was a rock at full back with Adrigole’s Darragh O’Sullivan, on the Cork minor panel, impressing at corner back. 2019 All-Ireland winning Cork minor Joseph O’Shea from Urhan was powerful at centre back. The midfield pairing of Alan O’Sullivan (Urhan) and Fintan Fenner (Castletownbere), another on the Cork minor panel, was dominant. The attack was punching holes in the Castlegregory defence, but not taking all their chances.
Early in the second half, there was another Beara blitz. Goals from Ben O’Sullivan, who finished with 2-3, and Dylan Crowley, saw Beara CS power 3-5 to 0-1 in front. Game over. They won 3-8 to 2-4, but could have won by a lot more.
‘To win a Munster final at Fitzgerald Stadium, that will live with them until the day they die, that can never be taken away from them,’ said O’Leary, who is helped by Kenmare man Dara Crowley.
‘They have put in the work and they are getting the rewards – that’s a great lesson for them right there. No matter the sport, success helps breed success.
‘The Wednesday before we finished up due to the coronavirus we called a training session at school and we said that the U16.5 panel could train with us. We had 42 players there,’ O’Leary said.
‘That’s a massive buy-in, we’ve had fellas who had given up football come back and they now have Munster medals in their back pocket, which is great.
‘Before you would struggle to get 15 fellas to play a game, now you struggle to pick the starting 15 – that’s a huge difference.’
Winning Munster opened the door to the All-Ireland series, though Beara Community School’s semi-final against the Connacht champions Dunmore was called off due an outbreak of mumps in the Beara team.
Given the blanket ban on all GAA due to the Covid-19 pandemic, when and if that game will be played is up the air, but some things are bigger than football insists O’Leary.
Still, whatever the coming months hold for this team, their commitment, dedication and success is a boost to Beara GAA.
‘To put this in perspective, I’d walk down the street on my lunch and I’d have five or six people come up and shake my hand saying “well done” and “keep up the good work”, and I don’t know who they are to be totally honest,’ O’Leary added.
‘This success is for the whole community, it lifts the place and the mood, and these young players can take that back to their clubs.’
These are memories and lessons in life that these students will remember long after they stop walking the corridors of Beara Community School – but they’ll leave a legacy that lasts. They are the young heroes of 2020.
The victorious Beara CS panel included Ryan Crowley (Urhan), Shane Power (Castletownbere), Alan Elphick (Urhan), Darragh O’Sullivan (Adrigole), Tiernan O’Sullivan (Adrigole), Joseph O’Shea (Urhan), Daniel Hanley (Castletownbere), Alan O’Sullivan (Urhan), Fintan Fenner (Castletownbere), Steven O’Shea (Urhan), Charlie O’Sullivan (Adrigole), Dylan Crowley (Urhan), Ben Sullivan (Urhan), Lee Kelly (Castletownbere), Tomás Murphy (Castletownbere), Matthew O’Leary (Garnish), Keith O’Sullivan (Urhan), Seán O’Shea (Urhan), Mikey O’Sullivan (Adrigole), Dylan Henshaw (Garnish), Paul McCarthy (Urhan), DJ Sheehan (Urhan), John O’Donoghue (Castletownbere), Cian O’Neill (Garnish) and Brandon Earley (Urhan).