THE final whistle in the 2020 Cork ladies’ football junior B county final heralded a cocktail of relief, elation and delight for Castlehaven.
Supporters poured on to the Sam Maguire Park pitch in Dunmanway, eager to share in their players’ celebrations. For the Castlehaven squad and mentors, a county title was ample reward for their on and off-field efforts.
More importantly however, victory over O’Donovan Rossa closed the final chapter in a book that opened two years previously.
In 2018, local rivals O’Donovan Rossa and Castlehaven played out back-to-back drawn and replayed county junior C final thrillers in front of huge attendances. Skibbereen came out on top but their West Cork neighbours used that heart-breaking loss to fuel consecutive county final triumphs.
The Haven defeated Mallow 5-7 to 2-13 to claim the 2019 junior C crown before powering to the 2020 junior B title. Defeating O’Donovan Rossa in last year’s decider – after yet another high-scoring thriller – brought a two-year journey to a successful conclusion.
But that’s not the end of Castlehaven ladies’ football’s story. Not by a long shot.
It’s a long way to Castlehaven from Derry, especially if you re-route via Sydney. That’s the path Castlehaven coach John McGuckin took before helping his newly adopted club become champions.
‘Last season was my first involved with Castlehaven having moved down here in July of 2019,’ Derry native McGuckin explained.
‘I met our team’s centre-back Noreen O’Sullivan whilst out in Sydney and we were both there for eight and a half years. We met through the Cormac McAnallen club. Then we moved back to Ireland and I went to all Noreen’s games. Heading into last season, Dinny Cahalane (manager) approached me to see if I’d be interested in helping out.
‘When it comes to football, it’s a no-brainer, it was always going to be a yes from me. That’s how I first got involved with the Castlehaven ladies football set-up.’
The GAA is vital to its local community. That statement is nothing new but John McGuckin was taken aback at how central a role Gaelic games play in the Union Hall and Castletownshend parishes.
‘I could see what winning the county meant to the entire parish and not just our team immediately after the final whistle,’ McGuckin said.
‘It took me back a bit, but it was absolutely fantastic to see. Where I come from in Derry, we live and breathe GAA as well. It is a small club but fairly successful so I was used to that before I came to Castlehaven. It would be worse for me if I didn’t appreciate what winning the county meant to the parish. The passion here is just unbelievable.’
Alice O’Driscoll played a starring role in Castlehaven’s successful 2020 junior B campaign. The talented midfielder suffered from injuries over the past two years but thankfully healed in time to help her team overcome one of their fiercest rivals.
‘It is always a huge battle whenever we face Skibbereen and that’s because we are so evenly matched all over the pitch,’ O’Driscoll stated.
‘That rivalry is there since we were kids and watching the men play each other in the senior county championships. A lot of our team has gone to school with the Skibbereen girls and are best friends with some of them. I think that’s why it always makes for an exciting game whenever we play.
‘We did not want that feeling of coming off the pitch after losing a county final like we experienced two years ago. I’m sure Skibb went out with the same attitude. All year, we kept saying that we need to get to the finishing line and to get over it. Thankfully, on the day, everyone pulled together to get it done.
‘Having been out for so long, all my injuries seemed like a distant memory at the final whistle. I had managed to play ten minutes of a match earlier in the year coming back from injury and then Covid hit! So, I was certainly hungry to get back and thankfully we ended up having a successful year.’
Standing alongside Alice O’Driscoll throughout the past season was midfield partner and team captain Siobhán Courtney. What a year the versatile Castlehaven player experienced in 2020. Not content with earning a county junior B medal, Courtney also picked up a county senior equivalent as part of West Cork’s historic triumph over Mourneabbey.
‘Even in lockdown, when we weren’t able to see anyone, our management would regularly post messages on our social media groups and keep encouraging us,’ Courtney remembered.
‘They made sure we always had an outlet to keep in contact with each other and encouraged us to share ideas. That contact kept us connected and was very important before we returned to training.
‘Management were always organised and introduced a lot of fresh ideas when we finally got back on the pitch. Everyone was enthusiastic about going to training, drills were sharp and that’s what we needed.
‘John (McGuckin) brought in new ideas this year and he and the management team were so committed to us. They gave up a lot of their time which we really appreciated. They have been brilliant for us all year and the reason we got over the line in the end.’
2021 promises to be another exciting year in the history of Castlehaven ladies football. Momentum is certainly something manager Dinny Cahalane can tap into next season. Making the step up to junior A is one captain Siobhán Courtney is relishing after fighting tooth and nail to win back-to-back championships.
‘I think that extra year in the junior C grade benefited us even though we mightn’t have appreciated it,’ Courtney said.
‘It allowed the squad to get to know one another better and improve their skills. We have quite a young squad with lots of minors and U21s so that experience of playing junior football was of huge benefit.
‘It made a difference and helped us push on last season. Also, people put the heads down during lockdown and trained really hard by themselves before we got back on the pitch.
‘We are excited about playing junior A next year because we feel it is a level that we can compete at. Everyone in Castlehaven is delighted at what we have already achieved in getting to this grade. We have played Dohenys in a few games over the last couple of years and run them really close so we are looking forward to another crack off them and another West Cork derby.’
Two Cork LGFA county titles in as many years is a marvellous return for a dedicated squad of footballers. Three-in-a-row is a tough ask but few clubs are better prepared to achieve that goal than Castlehaven. Roll on 2021.