LOVE them or dislike them, and they are two definite camps, you just have to admire them.
Over the past 50 years Castlehaven have forged a proud place in the annals of Gaelic football not only in West Cork but all over this emerald isle of ours. In those 50 years they have had their many highs and lows, and much else in between, and they have taken them all in their stride and come back for more.
In the Covid-ravaged season of 2020, they went from the high of a penalty shoot-out victory in the county semi-final against St Finbarr’s to the low of a much-delayed final defeat by Nemo Rangers.
But back they came again this season, unfulfilled and with even greater hunger. The spirit of the Haven they call it, something deep and magical. But fate is a cruel taskmaster and irony of ironies, waiting in the semi-final was the Barrs’ team again and another gut-wrenching penalty shoot-out. Whoever said history repeats itself knew what he was talking about, but not just quite accurate enough. History almost repeats itself.
It should never have come to another unwanted shoot-out between these two outstanding teams in their recent Premier SFC semi-final epic, a terrible way to decide a game, completely alien to Gaelic games. What would have been wrong with replaying this game the following Saturday after they had finished level following extra time?
Neither team deserved to lose this classic, one of the greatest games ever played in the county senior championship, but that’s little consolation to a devastated Castlehaven.
Both teams had this game for the winning, both failed to grab the opportunity over the course of 80 minutes because of the stubborn refusal of the opposition to wave the white flag of surrender. It made for a game of incredible intensity, twists and turns, marvellous sportsmanship, excitement of the highest order, Gaelic football at its very best.
Both sides had individuals who lit up Páirc Uí Chaoimh with the sheer splendour of the football they played. They say hurling is a game for the gods but football played like this is too. How can anybody describe the footballing Brian Hurley as mere mortal. The man is divine when he turns on this style, absolutely spell-binding, and to think of the agony he has gone through in recent years to return to this pinnacle of Gaelic football. Just to see him in action was food for the soul. Incredible! Hurley scored 2-9 and he lost. Incredible.
Yes, he lost because the Barr’s, too, possess a footballer, much maligned at times because of his failure to sparkle in the red shirt of Cork, but a colossus in the blue of his beloved Barr’s. You have to admire the sheer scoring talent of Stephen Sherlock. When all seemed lost for the city men, it was again Sherlock who stood up and was counted, Sherlock who took on the responsibility of that last vital free to tie the game, Sherlock who kicked a magnificent 2- 10 over the course of the game. A footballing wizard with radar in his boots, players like him will always draw the crowds to our games.
Hurley and Sherlock combined, how can Cork football be at an all-time low with players like those at their peak? Smile Keith Ricken, your time has come.
Yes, we felt huge sympathy for Rory Maguire when his shot was brilliantly saved by the goalkeeper and the result was defeat for his team. Gaelic games are team sports, failure should never rest on the shoulders of one player. Let us instead admire Maguire for his courage in putting himself forward to take a penalty, knowing what was at stake. He was a hero, too.
What of Barrs’ goalkeeper, John Kerins, the double hero, first saving a penalty and then converting the crucial fifth kick himself? What kind of bravery does that take? Like his father before him, huge shoes to fill, he is now a hero in Togher. Such men are the makings of the GAA and we are lucky to have them.
What of the future for this Haven team, beaten in the 2020 final and the 2021 semi-final in such heart-breaking fashion? The Haven are the Haven, they will dust themselves down, grieve for a week or two, start thinking about next season, plan for 2022, say novenas for Brian Hurley’s legs, produce another couple of real Haven footballers and do it all over again. The Haven are the Haven and they’ll be back, guaranteed.