IT was an incredible week for the Carbery senior football team. For the first time since 2013 the division has reached the quarter-finals of the county senior football championship, now known as the Premier SFC.
Carbery had the minimum to spare, 0-16 to 0-15, over divisional football kingpins Duhallow in the divisions/colleges final at Páirc Uí Rinn on Sunday evening week ago.
The reward is a place in the quarter-finals of the championship proper next month.
Being involved with this Carbery group in the past week as a coach meant a hell-for-leather roller-coaster ride of condensed, high-intensity, and what turned out to be, high-quality football.
All players were involved in club activity the previous Sunday so by the time they got to the Boreenmanna Road road venue for what is now the Tadgh Crowley Cup final last Sunday night, they were all going into their third, and in some cases fourth, game in seven days. That’s a testament alone to the loyalty and commitment this group has to the purple and gold.
Tim Buckley and his management team took a job nobody wanted five years ago. They have been through tough times over that period. But I have no doubt seeing the buzz the group got from winning and moving forward, those early memories of setbacks will have faded away pretty quickly.
Being involved with a divisional outfit is very different to club. You only have the players for small windows so often pitch work isn’t even a possibility as recovery is taking precedence. But on the other hand you're dealing with the cream of the Carbery division’s junior and intermediate clubs. Leaders within their club groups. Intelligent, diligent and hard-working men who can take instruction and understand the game.
I must also compliment the Carbery GAA Board on their support to the group. Chairman Aidan O’Rourke and his team left no stone unturned in the preceding weeks to make sure these players had all the background things needed that people don’t hear about or see, to put these players in the best place they could possibly be in heading into that huge battle with Ned English’s Duhallow men.
But the real fun starts now.
Carbery will meet the club team that’s ranked sixth of the six clubs that will progress from the groups to the knock-out stage. The identity of that team will be known on Sunday evening, September 4th, after the final round of group games.
The challenges that faced the likes of Avondhu and particularly Duhallow over the years are now the problems Carbery will meet as the various championships develop. Bantry Blues will be in the knock-out stage of the Premier IFC. Gabriel Rangers look like they could advance in the intermediate A competition. The Carbery JAFC is beginning to wind up, with quarter-finals this weekend.
Divisions like Duhallow and Avondhu have had this issue where players could be asked to play a club championship game on the same weekend as the senior championship with their division. It was probably one of the main reasons Duhallow, in particular, got so close so often over the past decade only to fall at the last or second last hurdle. Fatigue.
Managing this issue, in particular, will be key to further progression.
The win over Duhallow was Carbery’s fifth game in this year’s championship. Winning five championship games for a club side could mean you’re walking out of Páirc Uí Chaoimh with the Andy Scannell Cup if you had qualified as the best group winner. There was steady progress and improvement made over the course of the three early wins against Imokilly, Beara and Avondhu, but facing UCC in the mid-week semi-final was always going to be a step up in class.
To compound that, with the depth of talent the college has and with no preceding games to go on, we were shooting in the dark for this one. The Kerry registration cars started to arrive in Macroom that Wednesday evening so we knew we had a battle on our hands. The early stages were largely reactionary as we were trying to get our match-ups right. We spent a lot of the first half under the cosh.
The survivors from 2013, the O’Driscoll brothers and Ruairi Deane, grew in stature as the game progressed and the players around them reacted. Brian O’Driscoll finished with 1-9 from midfield, Colm threw himself into everything, as Deane barrelled down the middle, drawing frees and opening holes for the likes of the Gabriels set of O’Driscoll brothers. The Carbery defence got to grips with a talented UCC forward line and we got over the line by five, 2-18 to 2-13, to qualify for the Tadgh Crowley Cup final.
Nine different Carbery clubs were represented on the starting 15 in Páirc Uí Rinn and we knew there was going to be another step up in class in what turned out to be a cracker. We struggled with Duhallow’s running game early on but staying in the game while playing up hill into the Blackrock end is key in this ground, particularly in dry weather when everything is moving faster. We were happy with a two-point deficit at half time as we felt we were underperforming and had a lot more to give.
Sean Ryan and Brian O’Driscoll got to grips with Seamus Hickey and Paul Walsh around the middle. We made a few adjustments tactically. Our bench had an impact. And the arm wrestle began. Dylan Scannell bossed the wily Donncha O’Connor while Brian Everard, Ben Murphy and Ger O’Callaghan grew in stature. The Gabriels boys turned on the style up front as the game had a waft of extra-time about it. Donncha O’Connor had that chance to force extra time with a difficult free from the right that sailed wide, ensuring a Carbery win by the narrowest of margins.
Divisional football gives junior and intermediate players a chance to play at the very top level against the top players and top teams in the county. It gives players with a lot to give yet, like Brian O’Driscoll and young promising footballers like Dylan Scannell and Paddy O’Driscoll, a stage to show their undoubted ability on. Playing and winning five championship games has developed a spirit and unity within this group which is fundamental to any successful team.
They all now go back to their clubs knowing they are players that can perform at senior level successfully, and with a renewed sense of confidence which I have no doubt will lead to improved performances from those around them within their club teams.
Thanks to this group of players, playing football for Carbery is becoming an attractive proposition again.