CATHAL Maguire will make his first Premier senior county final appearance when Castlehaven meet Nemo Rangers at Páirc Uí Chaoimh this Sunday (3pm throw-in).
Maguire was only 17 years old when he was involved with the Haven’s 2015 county senior final panel. The young forward didn’t make it on to the field that day or in the subsequent replay when Nemo defeated their West Cork rivals 1-10 to 0-10 to claim their 19th senior crown.
‘Looking back at that time period, 2011 to 2015, some of the lads involved are still playing with us now,’ Maguire says on this week's Star Sport Podcast.
‘Those lads played in four county finals in five years. I remember looking on and thinking this is great, there are going to be (more) county finals left, right and centre.
‘As the years have gone on, I now realise how special it is to make a county final, how unique an achievement it is. The premier senior grade is such an unbelievably tough competition to win, let alone get to a final or semi-final. I’m playing senior five years and the farthest I’d gotten, until this year, was the semi-finals. That just shows the depth of talent there is across all the clubs in the county.’
Asking Maguire to look back on a county championship that began in July 2020 and, because of Covid, will only conclude on August 29th, 2021 is difficult. It seems like a lifetime ago now that the Haven emerged from an all-West Cork group including Newcestown, Carbery Rangers and Ilen Rovers.
A 4-19 to 2-4 win in their final group outing over Ilen had Castlehaven players and mentors keeping an eye on social media to ensure their scoring margin qualified the Carbery club for the last four.
Castlehaven achieved their goal but little did Maguire or any of his teammates realise that the drama was only just beginning.
St Finbarr’s and Castlehaven’s epic semi-final finished all square after extra-time, 1-13 apiece. That led to a penalty shootout that the Haven won to reach a third county decider with Nemo in eight years.
‘I remember we finished that semi-final with only one of the six forwards that started,’ Maguire said.
‘We had practised penalties the two weeks before but they would have revolved around the players who started the game. We were looking around asking who is going to step up? So, you couldn’t fault any fella that missed one.
‘It was an unbelievable atmosphere. We didn’t even know the format! We thought there might be another few penalties to be taken in sudden death! Until I saw the last (Mark Collins) one going in, I didn’t know for sure that we had won.’
After a long road, Castlehaven were finally back in a county final. Then Covid hit. At that juncture, no-one knew it would be a long winter stretching into a full year before Maguire and his West Cork club finally contested their county decider.
Cork GAA club players have never had to deal with such a long lead-in to their county finals until this year.
‘It was difficult to hear that something you had worked so hard to get to, and only six days away, was taken away from us again,’ Maguire admitted.
‘The pandemic hitting was something new for all of us. From then on you didn’t know if or when a window was going to open up again (to play the final) so you just did your own thing away at home. For a while no-one knew if inter-county let alone club would go ahead.
‘Our management team worked unbelievably hard to make sure things didn’t go stale. It was tough at times but county finals mean so much to people around here. They are worth their weight in gold, I can guarantee you that.
‘We have waited over 10 months for this but things have been equally tough for people living in our local community. It is the same for the Nemo Rangers local community. Now we have a date for the final, everyone can zone in. The buzz and anticipation around Castlehaven will be unbelievable too.
‘It has been six years since we contested a county final and it is eight years since we last won one. So, people down here were used to getting to county finals and to the business end of the championship. That’s why Castlehaven is so happy to be there again and having a right crack off of it.’