BY KIERAN McCARTHY
WHEN Joe O’Sullivan was 16 years old and training with St James’ juniors, he never told his parents.
They thought their only boy was with the club’s U21s.
He was too small, they felt, to be in with the adults. Joe played the game with them, nodded his head and agreed, and then he’d go off out the door at home in Ardfield to adult training.
He didn’t play that first year, it was all about getting experience and getting to know his team-mates.
‘I’ve been involved with the junior As for the past five seasons, but I didn’t tell the parents the first year, I told them I was going training with the U21s. They thought I was too small, which I probably was too, to be fair. They’ve changed that rule since, so that 16 year olds can’t train with adult teams,’ the now 21-year-old says. In his second year with St James’– and what his parents, Patrick and Carol, thought was his first season at that level – he was also sitting his Leaving Cert at Clonakilty Community College.
‘Go easy on the football and concentrate on school,’ they told him, with Joe’s best interests at heart.
He listened, and decided to push on even more with football.
‘Training was every Friday and Sunday night, and the parents going mad!’ he laughs now.
But it’s all worked out well.
Joe is captain of the St James’ junior footballers that won the Carbery JAFC title for the very first time this season, an historic achievement in a club that has existed for 127 years. The men of 2019 will be legends forever. In recognition of that feat, Joe was presented with a Celtic Ross West Cork Sports Star Monthly Award for September last week. His parents were there too, to enjoy a special occasion for Joe and the club.
The Tuesday after St James’ beat Ballinascarthy in the Carbery JAFC final, Joe reminded his parents of those early seasons.
‘I said it to them, “remember when you were telling me to take a step back for one year, it has all worked out now!”, the CIT student says, and he’s not finished yet.
St James, with the Carbery title in their back pocket, are now in the semi-final of the county series. They face St Michaels this Sunday in Ovens, and are one step away from a county final that nobody would ever have imagined at the start of the season. At the outset, St James’ would have been outsiders for a Carbery title. They were seen as an ageing team that had missed their chance. But they defied all the odds and, not conceding a goal in their five Carbery championship games, became kings of the division.
‘It probably hasn’t sunk in because we haven’t had the time to sit down and look back on it,’ Joe says.
‘We won the West Cork title on the Sunday, we had a few days celebrating, we were back training on the Wednesday and since then it’s been all about the county championship. That’s a new competition and we had to start from scratch; to win the county we need to win four games in a row and that has our full concentration.
‘I brought the trophy here this evening (to the award presentation) and it was my first day seeing it since the Monday after the West Cork final.’
The county championship is the target now. Wins against Cobh and Boherbue have brought St James’ to the semi-finals, and they don’t want the season to end yet.
‘It wasn’t hard to refocus after we won West Cork. We looked at Kilmacabea over the last few years. When they won their first West Cork they had huge celebrations but they still managed to make the county semi-final,’ Joe points out.
‘We put so much into this season that we aren’t happy to stop after winning West Cork, we want to make this as successful as possible. We came together on the Wednesday after the West Cork final, we said what we achieved was history but we put that to one side.’
There’s the knock-on effect too that St James’ junior A success will have on the club. They couldn’t field U16, minor or U21 teams this season. The numbers weren’t there. Add in the age profile of the junior A team and it’s a worry. But you can’t beat the euphoria that goes hand-in-hand with success. It’s that winning feeling.
St James’ numbers further down the age grades, at U12 and U14, offer encouragement that, in time, they’ll be able to start fielding teams at U16, minor and U21 again. They fielded two U12 hurling teams this season. And there was success at those grades as well.
‘Winning is a great habit to get into and it lifts the mood of everyone,’ Joe says.
‘I was chatting to our club chairman, Niall O’Sullivan, and I asked him how many trophies have we won this year? Including underage we have won nine, I think. I don’t think we have won nine trophies in the last six years put together.’
There’s a positivity in the club now that St James can build on and whatever happens in the county series, the class of 2019 has already etched their names in the annals of history, led by their young captain who was asked to take the role earlier in the year.
He thought for a moment when he got off the phone with player/manager Alan O’Shea that he had imagined the call. He didn’t. He was picked to be captain, and it turns out in the greatest year of all for St James’ GAA. That first year at adult level did him no harm at all, he smiles. Even his parents will agree to that now.