WHEN Fr O’Neill’s won the Cork County PIHC last season they did not think that it would be nine months later before they made their debut in the SHC.
To be exact, they won the premier intermediate on October 12, 2019 and it will be the latter end of July now before they set sail in the top flight of hurling on Leeside.
The Ladysbridge-Ballymacoda outfit went all the way to Croke Park in February to contest the All- Ireland intermediate club final, losing heartbreakingly to Tullaroan from Kilkenny.
As they had been on the campaign trail for the best part of 12 months, they were glad of the break but not they type of one that they got because of the Covid-19 outbreak.
After a lengthy absence from any sort of activity they were back on the training pitch last Friday night in their fine complex in Ahavine and, according to team management member, Dave Colbert they were delighted to be back.
“Yes indeed, we needed a bit of a break after being on the go for nearly a year but the circumstances of it were not something that any club would have wanted,” he told The Echo.
“For a while there it looked like there might be no championship this season but it’s getting off the ground again now and I think everybody is raring to go.
“During the lockdown the players were working away themselves at home on their fitness levels after having been given a programme by Billy Murphy.
“Players of that age are naturally fit anyway and we have a good bunch who look after themselves.”
O’Neill’s life as a senior club had started up with two league games, a victory over Cloyne and a loss to Carrigtwohill and after the draws were made for the SHC they came out of the drum with Bride Rovers, Ballymartle and Kilworth in the new round-robin format.
“We had a couple of league games played, a win and a loss before everything came to a halt. In the championship we found ourselves in a tough group but we were and we now are looking forward to it.
“Obviously, the game with Bride Rovers, an all East Cork derby was the big one, they are a seasoned senior club as are Ballymartle and there’s certainly nothing easy there.
“Kilworth, obviously, we know about, having beaten them in the county final last season and they know about us too. But it’s new territory against the other two.”
Colbert is under no illusions with their elevated status and he expects things to be a lot more competitive.
“Without a doubt, when you graduate from one grade to the next there’s a step-up to be negotiated. Senior hurling is certainly going to be that.
“We found the same when we went from intermediate to premier intermediate but we are looking forward to it.
“We lost our coach from last season, James O’Connor so it’s a local management team in charge now, myself, Billy and Rob Murphy and Bryan Sweeney.
“We are fortunate that all the players will go again and it’s just a case of waiting now for the schedule of games.”
And Colbert told the Echo that he expects the competition for places to be even stronger this time.
“Yes, we expect that. We won the Cork county premier U21 title two years ago and the players on that team are a year older now.
“A lot of them, of course, were involved with the premier intermediate team last season but the ones who didn’t get to play are going to be challenging now.
“That’s what we as a management team want, a strong panel and everybody wanting to play.”
It has been a great few years in this thriving East Cork club and the support of the local community has been outstanding, he says.
“In fairness, through thick and thin, the people of the parish have been exceptional in their support for the team.
“They are with us everywhere we go and it’s nice to be able to reward them.
“We are now a senior club and that is something we could only have dreamed about not that long ago.
“But through the hard work of a lot of people, first and foremost the players, we are up there now and we want to stay there.
“One of our players, Deccie Dalton has been recognised by Cork and he deserves that for the effort he has put in.
“But all the lads are the same, their commitment has been first class all through. Even though we are just back there is a great buzz around the place in Ahavine and everybody is looking forward to the start of the championship.
“I am not sure about the league but we’d certainly hope to get a few challenge games played before the championship starts up.
“I suppose there’s one thing, every club is starting out from the same position, in terms of preparation it will be similar for everybody.
“We’ll just have to make the most of the time that we have now before we go out to play championship hurling.”
In fairness, through thick and thin, the people of the parish have been exceptional in their support for the team.