BY DENIS HURLEY
IT’S three decades since Tom Wilson was first involved with a senior football team but it’s fair to say that Sunday’s Cork SFC semi-final against Duhallow at Pairc Ui Rinn will be the biggest day yet.
Having been a part of the Newcestown panel which won a south-west junior A double in 1988, Wilson was the club’s nominee to be a Carbery senior selector the following year. Since then, he has had stints as club chairman while also serving on team management committees, to the extent that he has lost count.
‘We’re a dual club and we’d like to keep it that way,’ he says, ‘and somebody has to be available to stand on the sideline.
‘I’m not sure how many times I’ve been involved, I tend to do three years at a time and then pull out and take a break for a year before being asked back. It’s happened three or four times anyway but I was lucky enough to be there on great occasions like when we won the intermediate in 2001 and 2010.
‘Sure, what else would a fella be doing?’
In that 2001 campaign, when Newcestown overcame Nemo Rangers to earn promotion to senior for the first time since 1973, the club’s football fortunes were guided by Gene O’Driscoll, with Wilson one of the selectors. Eighteen years on, the wheel has come full circle as O’Driscoll’s sons Colm and Brian act as coaches alongside selectors Wilson, Conor Condon and Niall O’Mahony.
While Newcestown began the football championship with a defeat to Clonakilty, since the resumption of action in the autumn they have seen off Valley Rovers, Mallow and Ilen Rovers to reach the last four, the last West Cork club standing.
Obviously, nobody in Newcestown would be happy to see one of their teams defeated but the fact the club’s senior hurling team were eliminated earlier than in recent years allowed a full focus on football.
‘As of now, we’ve had eight weeks to concentrate on football,’ Wilson says.
‘I would say that quite possibly the last time we had that was in 2011, the last time before this year that we reached the football quarter-finals.
‘Hurling has been successful in our club and we would have hoped for more of that this year. Definitely, when the county board issued the rankings at the start of the year and we were 12th in both, most people would have been thinking that there was a greater chance for the hurlers to survive in premier senior than the footballers, but you don’t know how things will work out.
‘The fact that the hurlers lost early, they went out against Newtownshandrum in round 2, meant that we had three weeks before the Valley Rovers game.
‘Nearly everyone on the football panel plays hurling so we gave the lads a break of a week and then even in the couple of weeks before that match we put systems in place that were different to what we had been doing.
‘There was an improvement in that game and then we had Mallow and the main thing was to win to make sure we survived in the top grade. Everything after that is bonus territory then.’
Even so, it’s a marvellous achievement for a club with limited numbers to make a football semi-final after two consecutive senior hurling quarter-final appearances. When asked what the secret is, Wilson reveals there is none except hard work.
‘I suppose it’s that you just get on with it,’ he says.
‘We absolutely hate postponements as we know the whole year is going to be busy. You’ve 22 league games and then half a dozen more in the championship, if you have a game a week that’s nearly taking up eight months. So there isn’t much time for excuses.
‘Another thing is that we retain a lot of our underage players. In a country place, where numbers are tight, you have to, but it means young fellas get a better chance.
‘For a club like us, players would have two years at each underage grade and a very good player might have three years minor, so playing that year above themselves definitely helps to toughen them up.’
Having so many dual players also means that a big match like Sunday’s semi-final is going to overawe anybody.
‘Most of the team would have been involved with the hurling panel that won the premier intermediate in 2015,’ Wilson says.
‘Obviously, there are a few younger lads who didn’t play back then but some of them would have been on Cork panels, so they’d be used to the big occasion.’
And, thankfully for Newcestown and Wilson, they will have close to a full panel.
‘One of our corner-backs, Murt Kennelly, went off injured early the last day and Mark Kelly had to come off late on,’ he says.
‘We’re hoping they’ll both be available, we should know more by the end of the week. When you come the latter part of the championship, fellas tend be better at getting fit!’
However, Wilson accepts that, even at full strength, Newcestown will be going in as underdogs on Sunday.
‘You can’t argue with that,’ he says.
‘The fact of the matter is that we didn’t get beyond the first round in the last few years and we’re up against a football division with a huge pick, a team that got to the final last year.
‘Whatever happens though, we won’t be found wanting for effort, that’s certainly a given.’