BY DENIS HURLEY
HAVING played for Clonakilty between 2006 and 2010 – winning a county title in his second-last year – Noel Griffin first lined out with the footballers of Kilbrittain in 2011.
Always a hurling stronghold, ‘the Ambers’ have shown themselves to be good footballers too.
Player-manager Griffin, a Clare native who represented his county as well as home club Kilrush Shamrocks, feels that the major factor in Kilbrittain’s march to this year’s Carbery JAFC final is the time available to work with the big ball.
‘The last two years, the intermediate hurling team have won their first two games,’ he says, ‘and, each time that has led to long gaps until the next match as they have got byes to the quarter-finals.
‘It gives you a chance to focus on football and you can see that the results improve the more time you can give it.
‘You’d always get a couple of weeks before the first round and, in the time I’ve been involved, there have been good results. We beat Gabriels and then, the year Colum’s went on to win, we only lost to them by a point.
‘If you take myself and Owen (Sexton) out of it, the average age of the team is fairly low, around 25 or 26, and a lot of them have won football medals at minor or U21 at lower grades.
‘The players are definitely there, the question is always as to what extent you can focus on the football.’
Hurling’s pre-eminence in Kilbrittain can perhaps be summed up by the fact that, when the club first reached the West Cork junior football final in 1926, it was after the team had been entered into the competition in error.
Apart from that occasion, Kilbrittain’s only other appearance in the decider was in 1993, when they lost to Dohenys. That came after the club won the county junior B title in 1992, and it is a similar scenario this time around.
‘Last year has given us a great platform,’ Griffin says.
‘There are two county championships, so as well as winning Carbery and playing in that county, we had three or four games in the open-draw competition and we were playing league games too.
‘This year, I think we have really benefited from getting competitive league games, against the likes of Muintir Bhaire, Ross and Castlehaven. We’ve probably lost as many games as we have won but they have all been good games.
‘In the past, you might get a hammering from a team and then that would put fellas off.’
Kilbrittain began this year’s campaign with a 4-8 to 0-7 win over Dohenys’ second team and then beat Barryroe by 3-11 to 1-11. While those wins were straightforward, the semi-final against St Mary’s was a different story, with two late goals needed to claim a 2-12 to 2-11 win. In Griffin’s eyes, that exemplified the team’s character.
‘It’s grand being in front because you can defend a lead in football.
‘We started slowly that night, I think we conceded six points in the first five minutes, but we played well after that. It’s only by winning those kinds of games that fellas take real confidence.’
A bigger task awaits now on Sunday against the 2015 beaten finalists Kilmacabea, but Griffin won’t be surprised if his team take the honours.
‘It might be a shock from the start of the year,’ he says, ‘but it wouldn’t be in terms of the work we’ve put in.
‘Leap will obviously be favourites, they’re football-only and they’ll probably have pressure on themselves after losing two years ago. From our point of view, the expectations aren’t there as much but if we play and perform, we’d expect to win. The lads are definitely capable of that.
‘Whether we win or lose, there’s a county championship to look forward to and that’ll help lads’ football too, but we’ll see what happens on Sunday first.’