KIERAN McCARTHY caught up with Mark Cronin to chat about Gabriels’ dream season
BACK in February, after a training session, manager-less Gabriel Rangers held a vote to pick their captain for the season.
Usually the team management would chose a captain but Gabriels had yet to appoint a new boss for the campaign ahead and the players were organising training sessions themselves, led by Kieran O’Callaghan, Tony Sheehan and Liam Hegarty.
They held a vote amongst themselves to elect a leader. Mark Cronin was the unanimous choice. It would be his first year as captain, and, now ten months on, even he is astounded by the success Gabriels have enjoyed this season – winning South West and Cork JAFC titles, going all the way to the Munster JFC final and also winning the Carbery-Beara Division 1 FL final to clinch the treble.
‘It’s been the best year of my life,’ Cronin smiled, after picking up the Celtic Ross West Cork Sports Star of the Month Award for November recently.
‘I have played football and soccer all my life, I won a West Cork before, I won an All-Ireland with Avondale in 2010, but this season tops everything.
‘First of all the boys voted me as captain at the start of the year, I was delighted with that, and to then go on and win a West Cork, a county and the league, and even getting to the Munster final, that’s dream stuff for me and my family, they follow me to every game.
‘I’m so proud of the players and our supporters, everyone has been unbelievable.’
It’s been the stuff of dreams for Gabriels who blitzed a trail through the South West claiming the scalps of Dohenys, Castlehaven, Clann na nGael, Kilmacabea and then St Colum’s in the final before they progressed to the county stage that saw wins against Ballyclough, Knocknagree after a replay and then over Shamrocks in the county final at Páirc Uí Rinn in October.
The Schull-Ballydehob side has come a long way since those manager-less training sessions in February before Castlehaven’s Mike O’Brien took charge in early March and instilled some organisation and belief.
‘I knew from the first training session with him (Mike O’Brien) that it was going to be a good year,’ Cronin said.
‘I still didn’t think that I would be sitting here with three cups but I was confident that we’d, at least, give the West Cork a good rattle. To win that, then the county, get to the Munster final and win the league, that’s dream stuff.
‘The first night he took training, he said he knew we were all skilful, that we had the forwards and that we had pace but he felt we were a bit all over the place, running everywhere but not defending as a team.
‘He left us go for the first game, left us play like we had been playing. I can’t remember what we scored, it was high, but we conceded high as well.
‘He told us after what needed to be done, where the problems were and that sunk in. He worked on our half forwards working back, having a defensive midfielder and we had to give the full-back line a bit of help as well.
‘We had the forwards but he brought in a structure and gave us confidence.’
The players bought into O’Brien’s plans and they travelled from far and wide for training sessions and matches – Jason Donegan and Tadhg McCarthy made the trip home every Friday night from Dublin, Fionn Hurley clocked up the air miles between college in Bordeaux and West Cork (via Paris and Cork Airport), Pat Nolan covered a fair distance on the roads too, but never once did anyone complain.
Even after Gabriels beat Colum’s in the South West final, they turned their attention to the county quarter-final the following weekend.
‘We had two nights of celebrating after we beat St Colum’s but it was the Mike O’Brien factor and the management team, they asked us straight out, “Are we going to go back and train hard or are we going to tip-toe around it?”’ Cronin said.
‘We all bought into it, were back training the Tuesday night, straight into it, and in the first game against Ballyclough we led six points to nil after 20 minutes so that showed how hungry we were for the county.’
There was disappointment in the Munster final against Glenbeigh-Glencar in December but Cronin feels that they will learn from that.
Intermediate football beckons in 2017 – and a first-round clash with Cill na Martra – as Gabriels climb up the ladder. Cronin can’t wait.