TO be among the favourites in an intermediate or junior grade each year is to be given a back-handed compliment – people acknowledge that you can win it, but you haven’t managed to back up that status just yet.
So it has been for Cill na Martra in the IFC – their record in the four years before the current season reads semi-final, quarter-final (replay), semi-final, semi-final. This time round, they have managed to break through the last-four glass ceiling and they take on Muskerry neighbours Aghabullogue in Sunday’s final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh (1.30pm).
Manager Caoimhín Ó Súilleabháin, who guided the club to a county U21B title in 2015, admits that the Gaeltacht men have learned lessons from 2017, his first in charge. Key among them was putting that hoary cliché of ‘one game at a time’ into practice.
‘We put too much pressure on ourselves last year,’ he says.
‘We were flying in Division 2 of the league and putting too much pressure on ourselves to win the county rather than going game by game.
‘Management and players have learned, we’re not obsessed by the end goal, it was just a case of beat Ballinora in the first round, then look at the next game and go from there. We haven’t changed anything from match to match and Sunday is just another game again.
‘It’s not as simple as that, obviously, but that approach has worked for us.’
In 2009, Cill na Martra reached the IFC final, losing to Carrigaline. Ó Súilleabháin was corner-forward that day, kicking a point in an 0-11 to 0-8 defeat, while Nollaig and Colm Ó Laoire, Seán Ó Céilleachair, Máirtín Ó Conchúir are among those still in the panel since then. The graduates from that U21 win three years ago, such as Micheál Ó Deasúna and Dan Ó Duinnín – who plays hurling with Aghabullogue – have meshed with them to create a formidable squad.
‘It’s like anything, it’s very hard to win a county, you have to get all of the components right,’ Ó Súilleabháin says.
‘Expectations will be high and there are good players there, but things happen and it doesn’t work out, a few injuries can knock you out of your stride.
‘It’s important to bear in mind that the club has never won an adult county title, there have been two Mid-Cork titles but that’s it, the U21 was the first one above juvenile level.
‘In that regard, Sunday is about making history and it’s not easy to get over the line, to win that first one is very hard.’
A big help this year is that they have been playing in the Kelleher Shield, having won Division 2 of the league in 2017.
‘That has been massive,’ Ó Súilleabhain says.
‘You’re playing good matches all the time and that can only help. We only took one tanking, that was against Valley Rovers, we had a few injuries and it was around the time the U21s were playing, too.
‘We finished mid-table and had four draws, if you turned two of those into wins we might have been in the mix.
‘We were very happy to have it, but you have to have everyone available and you have to be at it. There was a fear that, because of the effort involved, we might peak too soon but thankfully that didn’t happen.
‘Games-wise, it has been outstanding, playing Nemo in Cork was a great experience.’