NOTHING beats your first time, just ask Courcey Rovers.
The Ballinspittle-based club won their first-ever SE Systems Cork senior county camogie title in 2020 following a 5-12 to 1-12 win over Inniscarra.
Twenty-one years on the road at senior level, finally Rovers achieved their ultimate goal.
In doing so, Courceys delivered some badly-needed happiness to the parishes of Ballinspittle and Ballinadee during a year dominated by constant global pandemic headlines.
Key to that success was the positive rapport between players and management. Mike Boland has been involved with coaching Courcey Rovers for close to four years. In his first 12 months, they won a league trophy and by the end of his second season in 2018, reached a county final only to lose to a battle-hardened Inniscarra.
According to Boland, the way Rovers bounced back from that Inniscarra defeat two years ago and reached their holy grail is what makes this group special.
‘This is a special group of players but two years ago really hurt,’ Boland said.
‘They were very young and inexperienced back then so to have come back from that and won a first senior county is unbelievable. These girls have been through a lot over the last three years, but it’s stronger and stronger they have gotten.
‘Something was different this year. It still hasn’t really sunk in yet, even though it is only a couple of months ago. We haven’t had time to digest the enormity of it. It is special, winning your first county senior is always special. This year, thank God, we got over the line. You ask any of the girls to do something and they do it.’
A dedicated management team left no stone unturned when it came to their preparation. That commitment was central to delivering the club’s maiden senior title.
‘There was a lot of work done behind the scenes that people didn’t see,’ Boland added.
‘Shirley Moloney did a huge amount of work with the girls using Zoom during the lockdown. We brought extra people in, including Martin Enright to help with the strength and conditioning once it was safe to return to training.
‘Mark O’Sullivan (aka ‘Fanta’) helped with the girls’ technique and we also had Kevin Hannon and Joey Gallagher who were great motivators. Nuala O’Reilly and Rebecca Crowley did massive work for us too. In all, we had about nine people on the management team. The success the players enjoyed was just as special for us.’
For team captain Karyn Keohane, the honour of lifting the club’s first senior camogie title was a proud moment.
‘It was a huge honour to be named captain at the start of the year and to lead the team to our first county senior title is the stuff dreams are made of,’ Keohane said.
‘We slowly built momentum in every match. One big difference in this championship was that no head dropped if we ever went behind. There was no beating us and we didn’t panic at any stage, we kept driving on.
‘Confidence grew and we had different players taking their scores rather than relying on one individual. Linda Collins, Jacinta Crowley, Fiona Keating and Saoirse McCarthy are all capable of getting scores for us now. We had more options in our forward line and off the bench this year.’
Keohane made sure she and her players used the experience of losing a previous county final in 2018 as a motivating factor in 2020. That proved an astute move.
‘We talked a lot about bottling the hurt and not the occasion this year,’ Keohane added.
‘Everyone put their minds to the ultimate goal. We had that extra bond from all the Zoom sessions we did during the lockdown. Having the Cork girls at every training session and all our challenge matches was huge too. That really helped the team grow and develop as a unit. It drove us and encouraged everyone on the team to step up and increase their standards.’
Few Courcey Rovers players experienced a 24-month period quite like Fiona Keating. The rising inter-county dual star achieved unprecedented success with her division (West Cork), county and school (Kinsale Community School) on a scale not previously seen before helping her local camogie club make history. You would think scoring 3-2 in your club’s senior county final victory would be Keating’s lasting memory of the past year. Not so, for the versatile Cork star.
‘Winning a county final with Courcey Rovers was unreal,’ Keating said. ‘Winning a county senior title with the girls you started school with when you were five or six years old and played alongside all the way up through the underage ranks is something you dream of.
‘For me, our homecoming celebrations in Ballinadee and Ballinspittle are my most cherished memories. Being greeted by bonfires and people out at their doors celebrating, because they had to stay at home due to Covid, are memories I will have for the rest of my life.
‘I’m working in Centra in Ballinspittle and, to this day, some of the elderly members of the parish are still coming up and saying how much winning the county meant to them, especially with the pandemic. It is only then that it hits you what a big deal winning the county was.’
We will leave the final words of an historic year for the Ballinspittle and Ballinadee side to Mike Boland. Managing and coaching a large squad to a county title had its expected ups than downs. Yet, Courcey Rovers’ resilience and sheer bloody-mindedness shone through to make sure they brought home a first senior crown 21 years after joining the top tier.
‘It doesn’t matter what grade you are involved in, there are always headaches and little things to sort out,’ Boland said. ‘In fairness, I have always said it since I first got involved with Courcey Rovers four years ago. The one thing you want out of a team, more than anything else, is to give you a chance of winning silverware at the end of the year. You want to be there and fighting for silverware.
‘I’ve always said about this particular group, they always give you a chance. You deal with the early teething problems, hiccups and move on.
‘The bottom line is that no-one is bigger than the team. No one-is bigger than the club. We are all in this together. I am here four years now and these girls are very special. I’m absolutely mad about them. I’ve told the girls many times before how I feel about them. They give you everything they have got and if you want something extra, they give you more. That’s what makes this group special.’