DENIS HURLEY COLUMN
WHEN the final whistle went in Rosscarbery on Saturday week to signal Newcestown beating Ilen Rovers in the county senior football championship quarter-final, the first person I thought of was late grand-uncle, Dick O’Sullivan.
Dick was a Newcestown stalwart and a trawl of the Star archives throws up more than a few mentions of the immaculate state in which he kept the club’s pitch, but he was a true GAA man, too – there are records of him winning prizes in the lotteries of St Mary’s, Bandon and St Oliver Plunkett’s as well as his home club.
He was around when Newcestown won the county intermediate football title in 1971 and won their first senior game in 1972, beating Beara before falling to one of the big names of the time, St Michael’s, in the county quarter-final. A heavy defeat to Carbery in the 1973 first round saw them re-grade and though they made the intermediate decider again in 1974, it wouldn’t be until 2001 that they would return to the top tier.
That spell was also a brief one, but in 2010 they once again came out on top in the second-level championship, by then known as premier intermediate. While they reached the quarter-finals at the first time of asking, unlucky to concede a late Carbery Rangers equaliser before falling in the replay, they were unable to get back to that stage until this year.
At the outset of the campaign, few would have chosen them as semi-finalists, fewer again after an opening-round loss to Clonakilty, but Newcestown are well used to confounding expectations.
Club die-hards like Dick O’Sullivan might dream of big achievements but such notions are rarely if ever vocalised – there are too many day-to-day duties to be carried out instead of entertaining such fanciful ideas. He would never have thought that Newcestown would be a dual senior club or that his son Jim would manage the club in both codes at the top grade, but it would have been the source of immense pride. Likewise, the idea of them being one game away from a county senior final would have been considered similarly outlandish but it is a very real proposition now.
Four decades or so ago, Caheragh native Donie Keane arrived in Newcestown to take up a posting at the local primary school and initially he lodged with Dick and his wife Julia before becoming part of the local fabric as he rose to the position of principal. He swapped the red and yellow of Tadhg Mac Cárthaighs for that of Newcestown and is once again club secretary this year, the latest in a series of countless tours of duty. His two sons, Cárthach and Fionn, were part of the team that beat Ilen.
In small, rural clubs, the generations change but the surnames tend to become constant and Keane now ranks alongside the other Newcestown tribes like O’Sullivan, Wilson, O’Mahony, Kenneally, Condon, Longs, Twomeys, Crowleys and Desmonds and many more.
It’s a time to be enjoyed for Newcestown but equally, they will know that semi-finals are for winning. Last year in the senior hurling quarter-final, they ran the all-conquering Imokilly to a point but nobody will be keen for another moral victory.
In the O’Sullivans’ kitchen, there is – or at any rate, there was – a picture of the Carbery junior hurling and football double-winning panels from 1988. Dick reckoned that it would be almost impossible for such a feat to be repeated and, 31 years on, that assertion is still correct, though Ballinascarthy certainly gave it a good rattle.
Having won the junior title, Bal came up just short against St James’ in the football decider last weekend but lost no honour in defeat and still have the consolation of two county championship campaigns to look forward to. For St James’, the reality of their achievement is still probably setting in, but no matter how many times they pinch themselves they will find that it isn’t a dream and the cup is theirs.
Trying to build on a win of such magnitude in the county won’t be easy, but now that they have the taste of success it’s quite probable they will find that they are fond of it.