TOM LYONS feels Carbery Rangers came of age in last Sunday’s famous county final triumph
Patience, patience, patience and everything comes to him who waits.
Ten years after entering senior ranks, Carbery Rangers have found the Holy Grail. With justifiable claims to being the most consistent senior team in the county during the past decade, they were definitely one of the top three teams, along with Castlehaven and Nemo Rangers.
They watched, with growing frustration, as the Haven and Nemo took home the Andy Scannell Cup and they had to be content with the Kelleher Shield. Taking that last step to the title seemed to be slipping from them as their star players edged into their thirties.
Having giving his utmost, first as a player who led the team from junior to senior ranks, and then as a manager and coach Micheál O’Sullivan decided it was time to step aside at the end of 2015. But make no mistake, O’Sullivan had laid the foundations of this win before his departure. For years Rangers were renowned for their forward ability but were suspect at the back. O’Sullivan had been doing Trojan work on improving the defence over the last couple of seasons and we saw the results this season.
All it needed to click into place was some new drive, some new thinking and that came when Ronan McCarthy, the former Douglas and Cork mentor, took up the coaching reins. The new broom didn’t have to sweep clean, all he had to do was fine-tune the engine, give it the extra touch of power and point it in the right direction. The rest is history and Carbery Rangers are deserving county senior football champions for 2016.
Little wonder the fans refused to listen to the appeals to stay off the pitch as the final whistle blew last Sunday and they swarmed in to congratulate their heroes. This had been a long time in the making, they weren’t going to let it pass them by. There was back-slapping hugs of sheer delight, and tears of joy.
One had to feel thrilled for players like the Hayes brothers, John and Seamus, Kevin MacMahon, Declan Hayes and Anthony Roche, all of whom have shared the odyssey from West Cork junior to senior county champions. Their haul of club medals in all grades at county, Munster and All-Ireland levels surely must be unequalled in Cork football. This one has to be the sweetest, along with the first junior in 2003. What a journey it has been since then.
Of course, knowing these Ross players, once the celebrations are over, their minds will turn to another great goal, the All-Ireland club championship. Going on their form this season, it is a target well within their grasp.
The only strange thing about Sunday’s game was that they won by only three points. After an even first half, they were in total control in the second period, especially following Chris O’Donovan’s goal, set up by a marvellous run by Jerry O’Riordan, one of the unsung heroes of this team and magnificent at wing back on Sunday.
Ballincollig never looked liked rescuing the game after that goal and the late penalty may have rattled the Ross nerves but served only to put a better look on the scoreboard. Rangers were at least eight points a better side on the day.
Ballincollig needed top performances from Paddy Kelly and John Miskella and while Kelly showed a few class touches, Tipp player Robbie Kiely did a great marking job on him. I was worried that Brian Shanahan was taken away from the edge of the Ross square and given the job of shadowing Miskella but he did a marvellous job and, with Fitzpatrick and MacMahon, dominated the middle of the pitch.
Up front, every ball John Hayes touched was a point, sheer class from a class player. But on the day even he was over-shadowed by the magnificent John O’Rourke. This is a player who has suffered more than his share of injuries but never spared himself in the Ross jersey. On Sunday he kicked some wonderful points and was the destroyer-in-chief of the Ballincollig defence, which had come into this game with such a high reputation. This was O’Rourke’s final.
But on Sunday last this was the Carbery Rangers the fans had hoped to see. Class and confidence oozed from the side and that didn’t happen overnight. This win has been ten years in the making and patience and perseverance won out in the end.
Of course the greatest feeling in the end was one of sheer relief that the final jump had at last been negotiated safely and the Andy Scannell Cup was heading west across the Causeway. It was a glorious first title, highlighted with some marvellous football, the greatest day in the long and proud history of a great GAA club. A long time coming had truly come at last.