BACK in 2001, when Newcestown won the county intermediate football title with a win over Nemo Rangers, panel member Mark Kelly was a Leaving Certificate student in Hamilton High School in Bandon.
Veterans like man of the match Pádraig Condon, Jim O’Sullivan and Pat Kenneally were among his team-mates and now, 19 years on, Kelly and Tadgh Twomey – who also played in that game as a teenager – are the elder statesmen as a new intake of youngsters make their mark.
On Sunday, Newcestown go in search of what would be a second successive quarter-final appearance in Cork’s top football grade, with their Group C clash with Carbery Rangers in Ballinascarthy a winner-take-all tie.
It has been heavy going for Newcestown to combine hurling and football commitments, but the hope for them is that the senior A hurling victory over Cloyne last week can provide some momentum to be harnessed on Sunday.
While the compacted fixture-schedule makes things difficult for dual clubs, Kelly is in favour of the more integrated nature, compared to the usual way of clubs having to back seat in the summer when inter-county action takes hold.
‘It’s way better than what the old system used to be,’ he says, ‘playing in April and then not out again until August or September.
‘Last year, we got a win and we arranged our league games so that we had four football league games together and then four hurling league games together. Otherwise, we’d have been chopping and changing and you don’t really get anything done in either code. The new format definitely helps.
‘The only drawback is the fact that, for a dual club, it’s week on week, but it’s still way better than what was there.’
With the club scene given its own window before inter-county resumes, teams like Newcestown have benefited from being able to work with a full squad.
‘For league games last year, a lot of the time we had 15 or 17,’ Kelly says.
‘This year, we have Luke Meade back and playing football full-time, Gearóid O’Donovan and David Buckley weren’t with the U20s. You’re a lot stronger and you’re not struggling for numbers.’
Kelly is something of a rarity in Newcestown in that his sole focus is on football, having played junior hurling until last year, when a combination of injuries and his shift-work as a Garda based in Dungarvan forced his hand.
Having turned 37 in April, he is in a position where he has to mind his body.
‘I didn’t find it tough really until about two years ago,’ he says.
‘Then I picked up three hamstring injuries in the same year, all on the same hamstring.
‘At the end of last year, the groin started niggling at me and that turned into a more serious problem through the winter.
‘I found it very hard to try to get fit again this year, when you’ve missed a couple of blocks of training and you’re trying not to over-train, risking aggravating old injuries. It was very slow and I went to various specialists. It cured away over time but it’s just something you have to leave alone, really.’
Kelly started both of the football games so far, the impressive win over Ilen Rovers and the defeat to Castlehaven last time out. It all comes down to Sunday now, against Carbery Rangers.
Both sides have lost to the Haven and beaten Ilen, meaning that the only variable is the fact a draw would send Newcestown through on scoring-difference.
The fact that the terms of engagement are clear is a help, but doesn’t lessen the size of the challenge.
‘There’s no talking about scoring difference or anything, it’s straight knockout,’ Kelly says. ‘Ross have always been a small bit better than us, we’ve never beaten them in a championship game. In 2011, after coming up, we drew with them in a quarter-final in Clon and they beat us well in the replay. We’ve beaten them in challenge matches but even in league games we always tend to come out on the wrong side of the score so we know exactly where we’re at.
‘They’ve been strong all along, getting to county semis and finals, so we know what to expect.’