This story originally appeared in our 16-page county final preview in this week's Southern Star sports section which is available in shops across West Cork now or online via our digital edition ➡ http://bit.ly/2Z9T9Z1
BY DONAL O'SULLIVAN
TIMMY O’Sullivan never doubted that Clonakilty would win the 2009 county senior football final against St Finbarr’s.
Even when Clon coughed up a 1-12 to 0-7 lead inside the final quarter as the Barrs dragged themselves level, O’Sullivan’s confidence was unwavering. It was well founded, too, as Dave O’Regan’s late free, in the 58th minute, clinched a dramatic 1-13 to 1-12 triumph. Great memories.
‘I never for one second believed that we were going to lose that game. Not even when they drew level. Understandably it looked like we were in trouble but given the panel that was there and the preparation I was confident,’ O’Sullivan insists.
‘That team had been on the go for six or seven years and we were very experienced. We had trained hard in the winter of ’08 and went into the league and championship in a good place.
‘We had a lot of work done prior to that game, both mentally and physically. Tom Ryan, our sports psychologist at the time, had a huge influence on the panel as well and I personally still believed we would win that game.’
Clon did win that county final, but it was the last time the club topped the football charts. They have the chance to reach the number one spot again this Sunday. Standing in their way, just like in 2009, are the Barrs. This year’s final pairing brings back memories of 12 years ago. And now, like then, sees Mike ‘Haulie’ O’Neill in charge of Clon’s footballers.
Timmy O’Sullivan, corner back on that 2009 county-winning team, feels there is definitely a ‘Haulie Factor’ involved.
‘He has an unbelievable presence but it’s much more than that,’ O’Sullivan explains.
‘The only way I can describe him is that he is to Clon GAA what Billy Morgan is to Nemo and Cork GAA. He has a great passion and understanding for everything associated with the club. He just has a special way of bonding lads together and getting the best out of them.
‘The big thing Haulie brings is preparation. When he is involved it is the nearest thing to professionalism that you will experience as a player.’
There is another link to that last Clonakilty county-winning team in the form of the quiet and unassuming Neil Deasy. A coach back in ’09, he now finds himself involved with the seniors again and O’Sullivan feels he also played a vital part in that county title.
‘Neil probably isn’t known outside of Clon GAA but he is an incredible coach and his record is phenomenal. Involved in 2009 and again this year, you can see the results. He was also involved with our U21 team that annexed three West Cork titles in a row (2012-2014) and this weekend’s panel is backboned by those players. Both himself and Haulie are very good and have a brilliant way of empowering the players,’ O’Sullivan says.
So, back to 2009. The final was going according to plan for the West Cork outfit for 45 minutes as they led by eight points, so what happened that allowed the Barrs back into the game?
‘We started that game with great intensity. We had prepared well and we all knew our roles. We implemented our game plan and, to be honest, the Barrs just couldn’t live with us,’ O’Sullivan recalls.
‘We went eight points ahead and I think there was a small bit of complacency crept in.’
A 46th-minute goal kickstarted the Barrs’ revival and it was O’Sullivan who, by his own admission, was at fault.
‘I remember (James) Sexton coming on and I dropped my concentration levels for literally two seconds. Robert O’Mahony checked me and Sexton ended up through on goal. He stuck it away and they were back in business. I should have been closer to him and it still frustrates me to this day to be honest,’ he admits.
While there were some standout performances in that narrow victory on the day, O’Sullivan believes it was the sum of all parts that saw them get over the line.
‘Our full-forward line of Padraig Griffin, Colm Callanan, who came back halfway through that year, and Conor McManus were so potent. They were go-to players, they would win any kind of ball and they got some vital scores for us,’ he explains.
‘In terms of our defence, it was very experienced. Eamonn Harte was playing some unbelievable football in goal. The full-back line of Diarmuid O’Brien, Tony Anglin and myself had been there for a few years. Noel Griffin at centre back and Martin O’Brien at centre forward were unbelievable leaders.’
Midfield, as always, is crucial, and O’Sullivan feels they got the better of these exchanges.
‘Timmy Anglin, our captain who got the goal, and Sean Nagle in midfield were immense. Timmy did his talking on the pitch and was a great leader,’ he says. ‘Our half forwards, Colin O’Donovan and Donal Lyons, were unsung heroes in terms of work rate. They just got up and down the pitch all day.’
It was a surging run by captain Timmy Anglin which ultimately saw him upended on the 45-metre line that led to the winning free with two minutes remaining. Free-taker Colin O’Donovan had been substituted in the first half due to injury. Dave O’Regan was entrusted with the responsibility and O’Sullivan admits he never felt the outcome was in doubt.
‘The Friday before the game, some of the lads were up there practising frees and he was knocking them over for fun. He just had a lovely strike of a ball. Haulie ran on to tell him he was taking it because he had obviously seen what I had seen on the Friday. Thankfully it went over and we managed to hold on.’
Timmy O’Sullivan is hoping for something similar this weekend … but maybe just not as nerve-wracking.