CHRISTINE O’Neill had to wait a long time to revel in county senior camogie championship glory with Courcey Rovers.
She was 14 years old when she made her first appearance with her beloved Courceys and in 2020, as a 30-year-old, the Ballinadee woman finally reached the Promised Land when they won the Cork senior camogie championship title for the first time ever.
That historic success was recognised at the recent Celtic Ross Hotel West Cork Sports Star Awards when Courcey Rovers picked up the 2020 Special Achievement Award.
‘Winning this award is absolutely fantastic and a huge honour for the club,’ O’Neill told this week’s Star Sport Podcast.
‘2020, being the year that it was, when it came to celebrating a county there wasn’t much time. We went into lockdown three pretty much after we won the county so there wasn’t that much time for celebrations so receiving an award like this is fantastic.
‘It’s a lovely way to honour the year and the girls as well.’
As one of the most experienced players on the Courceys panel, O’Neill has seen the good times and the bad times, and played through the lean years, but she never stopped believing that their time would come – and it did in 2020 when they beat Inniscarra in the county senior final.
‘I togged out for the Courceys seniors when I was U14 so that’s when I started my career with the senior team. I was playing with stalwarts that time, like Sarah Hayes and Rachel Moloney, and they believed (our time would come),’ O’Neill says.
‘That belief has always been there and in the last few years we have had great mentors and management come in, the likes of Jon Hynes and Brian Hayes who are constantly instilling belief, that the girls are there, that our time will come.
‘Being part of the group that did the county was luck, it was going to happen at some stage, and I am honoured and delighted that I was part of the set-up and that I didn’t hang up my boots.
‘We had been banging on the door for a long time and for us to finally get through the door was unbelievable.’
Courceys’ 5-12 to 1-12 county final win against Inniscarra in September 2020 will live long in the memory. That’s the day O’Neill and her team-mates came of age and took that final step. They had lost the 2018 final to Inniscarra, but lessons were learned and they bounced back better and stronger.
‘Togging out for the 2020 final, we couldn’t wait. We knew beforehand that we were going to win, we had that belief – that came from our management and from within our own camp. It was just a matter of going out, playing, putting up the scores and finishing out the match,’ O’Neill says.
‘We were down five points at one stage and it took us 15 minutes to get going. But Jacinta (Crowley), Linda (Collins), real leaders stood up and took the game by the scruff of the neck. Lorraine Collins had an unbelievable county final, she was class, she just bossed it.
‘I came off for the last 15 minutes and was on the sideline. When the final whistle went I ran straight to Sinead (O’Reilly), we couldn’t talk, we would be the two biggest chatterboxes around, but there wasn’t a word said.’
Now, in 2021, Courceys are the team to beat. It’s a new challenge for this group. O’Neill is relishing it.
‘We are ready for it, Shirley (Moloney) says we have the mark on our back, but we are setting standards for ourselves and we are driving on,’ O’Neill adds.