BY DENIS HURLEY
THE prize of intermediate football for 2017 is at stake for Gabriel Rangers as they lock horns with Shamrocks in the county JAFC final at Páirc Uí Rinn on Sunday (1.45pm).
Having claimed the Carbery divisional title this year for just the second time, the Schull/Ballydehob side have beaten Ballyclough and Knocknagree to set up the decider with the Carrigdhoun champions, and Gabriels captain Mark Cronin believes that a greater maturity in the side has been key.
‘We’ve only every played in the county once, back in 2010,’ he says.
‘We lost out to White’s Cross in that game but I think this year we were definitely way more up for it and hungry. There’s about ten of the team the same but we would have been 23, 24 back then so there’s a lot of experience now.
‘In 2014, we drew the West Cork final against St Mary’s and lost the replay then by a point. We had our chance that day but then we couldn’t push on. We had had a replay in the semi-final too against Plunkett’s and I think fellas were just tired.
‘This time, once we won the West Cork we had our celebrations and fellas were just gunning to get back training the next Tuesday night.
‘You could tell that the hunger was there straightaway for the county.’
Gabriels defeated St Colum’s by four points in the Carbery final, Cronin scoring 1-4 with fellow star attacker Eddie Goggin accounting for 1-1. Preparations for that game weren’t the easiest, however, as, after beating Kilmacabea in the semi-final on August 28th, there was almost a month’s wait as the other side of the draw was only at the quarter-final stage.
‘Mike O’Brien, our coach, did a great job,’ says Cronin, who works with Barrett Agri in Bantry. ‘He kept us to ourselves, training like normal. We did go a bit harder for two or three weeks to get up to match fitness.
‘We had a month of a lay-off and the first two weeks were pretty poor, to be honest, but you could really see then that fellas were getting back up the sharpness required in the last two weeks.
‘We had had two league games and they didn’t go great but things changed before the Colum’s game.’
Victory in the final, while welcome, was not allowed to overshadow future aspirations, however. Cronin points to a strong collective desire to prove that they could handle the best of what the county had to offer.
‘We didn’t go mad, to be honest,’ he says.
‘The first year, we weren’t used to it and I suppose we were a bit older too. We had our celebrations and we went to the schools then on the Monday, it was a great day for the parish to be honest.
‘We went back into it then on Tuesday so we were ready for Ballyclough on the Saturday night. I knew that we’d have a great chance in the county championship, we were confident because there’s a good team there.
‘Obviously, Ballyclough had Colm O’Neill but our backs were excellent, we had our homework done.’
As well as the 15 on the pitch, Gabriels have also benefited from the strong presence of the ‘16th man’ outside the wire.
‘The supporters have driven us on,’ Cronin says, ‘they are honestly the best around.
‘We went up to Macroom and won that match, it was dark and wet and there was a long journey home ahead but they all stayed until we came out of the dressing rooms.They did that again in Ballyvourney after the Knocknagree game, it was touching.
‘Every single person is on about the final. It’ll be even better now the next couple of days, the players and supporters and families are going to go all out for it.’
Having featured in the McGrath Cup with Cork, Páirc Uí Rinn isn’t new territory for Cronin, while Chris Moynihan also saw action there with the Rebels’ minor team. Beyond that, it will be a new experience for many, but with a large chunk of the team – including Cronin – having won county minor B medals in 2004, big games aren’t necessarily anything new.
‘It’s something that they’ll all be looking forward to,’ he says.
‘Even in the last game, there was a massive crowd in Ballyvourney and there were no nerves whatsoever.Everyone’s enjoying their football.’
They will certainly be enjoying it if the cup is coming west on Sunday evening, and it would also cap what has been a very successful year for the division in the championships.
‘Obviously, well done to Carbery Rangers and to Bandon, they did great, we’re absolutely delighted for them,’ Cronin says.‘Goleen won the junior C as well, so it has been a great year for the division. We want to finish that off and bring the cup back to Ballydehob and Schull.’