TOM LYONS got the thoughts of Pat Connolly on Goleen’s success
IT has a great ring to it, county champions.
As 2016 began little did the Gaels of the Mizen envisage the glory that awaited them on the football field for the year. In fact the year began on a very low ebb when the club was regraded from B to C by the county board because of lack of success in the B grade. A new county championship, C grade football, had just been introduced for teams who were failing to make an impression in the county B championship.
Like all regraded teams, they were naturally disappointed and their pride may have been dented but that soon disappeared when they registered their first win on May Day against Abbey Rovers of Castletownroche, coming from behind to win by 1-8 to 1-3.
Six weeks later, with some more fitness under their belts, they played a really tough quarter-final against the experienced Gleann na Laoi from near the city before emerging winners by 1-7 to 1-5.
Now into their first-ever county semi-final, excitement was beginning to mount in the club and on July 2nd, they produced one of their best performances of the season when beating Ballinure by 2-14 to 2-4. As Mizen geared itself for the influx of visitors on the August bank holiday, the GAA club prepared itself for its first-ever county championship final in any grade.
The date with destiny was July 29th in Brinny and the vagaries of the backdoor system saw them pitted again against their first-round opponents from Castletownroche, Abbey Rovers. Beating the same team twice in the same championship is never an easy task and so it proved that historic day in Brinny as two first-half goals by Rovers saw Goleen trailing by five points at the break, 2-4 to 0-5, and in serious trouble.
What a story the second half told as a reformed and rejuvenated Goleen took the game by the scruff of the neck and a wonderful goal by Darren O’Donovan, plus an amazing display at midfield by veteran John Cullinane, produced a complete reversal of the opening half.
Over 50 years of hunger was unleashed and on a final score of 1-13 to 3-5, which included a late Rovers goal, the new junior C trophy was heading for the Mizen Peninsula.
What a weekend of celebrating they had following that historic victory and even though they lost focus on the South West junior B championship, losing to Bantry two weeks later, they finished the year in style by defeating Randal Óg in the league final.
The team that won the first-ever county title for Goleen was Padraig Downey, Daniel O’Callaghan, David O’Leary, Darryl Connell, Seán Sheehan, Padraig Scully, James Scully, John Cullinane, Liam O’Connell, Darren O’Donovan, Tadhg Cullinane, Jack Murphy, Brendan Goggin, Daniel O’Driscoll and David Farrell. Subs used were Aaron Barry, Padraig Reidy, Shane O’Leary and Brendan Scully.
The man behind the Goleen success is Pat Connolly. The former Ilen Rovers’ star is manager and trainer of the team and is well-known for his great passion for the game.
‘I took on the job of training Goleen in 2010,’ Connolly explained.
‘We won the South West junior B in 2011 and should have won it again in 2013 against Kilmeen, who have won the county B since.
‘The club were fantastic to me when I arrived. Anything I wanted for the team was delivered immediately. I soon came to understand that the Goleen team is not just the players, one to 25. It’s all about the whole club, the officers, the committee and the supporters. They are all one single team. It’s a marvellous spirit.’
Going down to the C grade county championship wasn’t something the club had planned this season, so how did they react to the news that they had been regraded by the county board at the beginning of the year?
‘Because of our lack of success during the past couple of years in the county B championship the county board decided to regrade us to the new county C championship,’ explained Connolly.
‘That didn’t go down well at first with some people, clubs never like to be regraded, but then the club decided that if we were playing junior C in the county, then we might as well have a real cut off it. We said that we would use it as a stepping stone to the junior B title.
‘As regards training, I firmly believe that too much training, four nights a week, only succeeds in turning players off, so we trained twice a week with a game at the weekend if possible. The players in Cork came down on Tuesday nights and we averaged about 20 each night. Players can always find excuses if they don’t want to train but these lads were totally committed right through the season. Don’t forget, either, that they ranged from 17 years right into their forties!’
So, on to the junior C inaugural championship and the passage to the club’s first-ever county championship final in any grade.
‘It was an eye-opener for us,’ stated Connolly.
‘The type of football we encountered was very defensive, sometimes 15 players behind the ball. All the teams were at it, it’s part of football now from senior right down to junior C. We had no choice but to go down the same road if we were to win anything.
‘You have to be patient when playing that game, look for a team’s weakness, try to open them up and that’s why we trailed in some of our games. Abbey Rovers led us in the first round and in the second round a strong Gleann na Laoi really put it up to us in the second half. Against Ballinure in the semi-final we were missing three of our main players and the subs had to stand up to the plate. They did just that and it was one my proudest moments with Goleen as we won by ten points.’
Opponents in their first-ever county final, in Brinny were Abbey Rovers, who had won their way through the backdoor.
‘Of course the idea that it’s very hard to beat the same team twice was mentioned,’ admitted Connolly, ‘So we had to work hard on the psychological side of the preparations.
‘Maybe some of the players thought that as we had beaten them already, we would do it again. Whatever the reason, we got off to a very poor start that day, a nightmare for the supporters when Abbey scored two early goals. But I never had any doubts, not for a single minute, about our lads.
‘At half time we just rewrote the script for the game, made four positional changes and brought on young Padraig Reidy at wing back, where he had a great game. It all clicked into place in the second half. Logic said you shouldn’t play a sweeper when losing by five points and chasing the game, but we did. All the lads showed tremendous leadership on the field that day. Of course you need a bit of luck but we made our own luck that day and we won.
‘I can tell you there was some celebrating done in Goleen after that final. In fact, I would say they are still at it.’