EVER since their dramatic, and traumatic, defeat in the Carbery replayed junior A football final of 2018 Tadhg MacCarthaigh have been in something of a transition period.
During the past decade they have been haemorrhaging experienced players and it wasn’t easy to replace born leaders like Tadhg Deasy or Mark Barrett. Unfortunately, the underage club had been struggling for numbers so readymade replacements were anything but flúirseach.
Luckily, the core of the team, especially the three O’Driscoll brothers, was still in place. Luckily again, the split season forced on us over the past two seasons was a blessing in disguise as they could call on the services of their inter-county players without interference from Cork duties.
‘The young lads who were coming through were playing in lower grades because of lack of numbers and it was our job then to get them up to a sufficient standard to compete successfully for the West Cork junior title,’ explained manager Gene O’Driscoll, the driving power behind Caheragh football for more years than he likes to admit.
‘We were lucky that we had six or seven experienced players who took on the duty of team leaders and the young lads have been learning a lot from them. Those older lads had to set the tone for the others and show it on the pitch and in training. It has worked very well this season.’
When the team narrowly scraped over a young Kilbrittain side in the first round of the Carbery JAFC this season, one wondered just how the transition was progressing as they looked far from champion material that day. Next day out would test them as they faced their great rivals, reigning champions Kilmacabea. That was the acid test for the new Caheragh side and it showed that their rebuilding programme was on the right track after all when they knocked out the champions on a 1-9 to 0-11 score-line. Not only did that win show they had the potential to go all the way but it also proved that they could win in a tight situation. The young lads were really learning.
‘We decided at the start of the year that we couldn’t hit peak form for every game, that we would try to build momentum as the season progressed. We didn’t concentrate on the first round as you’re still in it even if you’re beaten, no disrespect to a good young Kilbrittain side,’ said O’Driscoll.
‘Then we were drawn against Kilmac in the next round and that really concentrated our minds. We had to focus seriously on that game and we really believed that we could win that game. To win it after trailing for a lot of the game, to win in a tight finish, was a huge learning curve for the young lads, a great learning experience. That game really brought us on a ton and you could see how young lads like Paddy Burke, Charlie McCarthy, Eugene Daly, etc., were developing.’
A weak Bandon second string was easily brushed aside in the quarter-final, without setting the world on fire; Caheragh won 3-16 to 1-4.
Under special championship arrangements, the second teams of the senior and intermediate clubs had been kept apart from the junior first teams in the early rounds but MacCarthaigh now came face to face with 2020 finalists, Carbery Rangers, in the semi-final.
The Ross men had made no secret of their ambition to win the title in 2021 but on the day a pair of goals by full forward Eugene Daly proved vital as MacCarthaighs again kept a clean sheet at the back 2-8 to 0-8.
What happened between that semi-final and the final against St Mary’s provided plenty of controversy. Mary’s were also tied up in the hurling championship, bad weather caused a postponement of the mid-week semi-final and the county board refused an extension to play the Carbery JAFC final.
The result was that the final had to played mid-week under lights in Dunmanway and the winner was scheduled to play south-east winners, Ballinhassig, the three days later in the county. Tadhg MacCarthaigh had been the innocent victims of all the hassle and how did they cope with those uncertain weeks?
‘It was all definitely a big distraction,’ admitted O’Driscoll.
‘First there was a big hold-up in the game between Dohenys and Bandon. I realise it’s not easy for dual clubs but they must realise if they want to compete in the top grade they must be prepared to make sacrifices along the way. There is going to be a cost in playing both and, in this case, we were the victims.
‘I had great sympathy for St Mary’s, to lose both finals, that wasn’t easy and it was no fault of theirs that the final was held up. All we wanted was a proper chance to represent our division if we won the West Cork and we didn’t get that.’
As it transpired, a huge crowd turned up for the final, creating a great atmosphere but on the night there was going to be only one winner as a MacCarthaigh side, firing on all cylinders from the first whistle had two goals on the board within ten minutes, courtesy of Sean McCarthy and Paddy Burke.
It wasn’t a perfect performance by the Caheragh side as they struggled to build on their great start against a battling St Mary’s, but there was never any real danger of losing the game which finished 2-10 to 1-8. There was great rejoicing that a title famine lasting back to 2012 had finally ended.
‘I suppose it was the lack of experience really, to get a great start but not to build on it,’ O’Driscoll honestly admitted. ‘We had been drilling home all season how to control the match if you’re in the lead and we were probably too conservative in the final.
‘It was great to win it for the first time since 2012 because a lot of us remember when we were competing successfully with Carbery Rangers and Ilen here in West Cork. They went on to greater things while we faded away.
‘We were unlucky at times, losing in the county by a single point to teams like Adrigole and Aghabullogue, who went on to win the title. We never forget that and winning the county is still our big aim. We keep telling the players that. It is definitely a big incentive to us now to go all the way.’
There was heartbreak in the county series three days after winning the Carbery title, as Ballinhassig emerged after their extra-time quarter-final battle. But O’Driscoll and Tadhg MacCarthaigh finish 2021 as kings of Carbery junior football, again, and they will start the 2022 championship as the team to beat.