FEW clubs are successful in a divisional final at the first time of asking, yet Kilbrin did so in 1978, becoming Duhallow Junior Hurling champions.
Founded in 1953, following some barren years, the decision in 1974 by Bishop of Cloyne, Dr John Aherne to appoint Fr Finbarr Kelleher as curate of Kilbrin heralded a new era.
Two years later, a new playing pitch was developed on land purchased and in 1978 the club won the first of its 11 Duhallow Junior A Hurling Championship titles.
A native of Aghabullogue, Fr Kelleher had won a Dr Harty Cup medal with St Colman’s College, Fermoy, in 1948 before pursuing clerical studies. He was ordained at Maynooth and was assigned to the Diocese of Cloyne.
Kilbrin entered the 1976 Duhallow Junior A Hurling League, reaching the decider only to come up short against experienced Newmarket.
Fr Kelleher had called for reinforcements, his brother Dan answered from Killarney to operate under the dual capacity of both player and trainer. As a player, Dan was in the twilight of his career, earlier starring for UCC in many an epic county senior championship battle against the likes of Christy Ring and Glen Rovers.
It’s fair to say that once Dan took over the reins, Kilbrin continued to improve and the fitness levels increased significantly. Dan’s expertise extended beyond that of operating on the field, as manager of the Muckross Estate, he was involved in GAA club affairs in Killarney.
At national level, a new football dynasty surfaced during the 1970s, epic battles between Kerry and Dublin caught the imagination before the Kingdom enjoyed a grip in the All Ireland championship.
For the most part, training sessions operated at Fitzgerald Stadium allowing Kelleher to learn from the drills undertaken by the Kerry players. Some of the techniques generated by manager Mick O’Dwyer and his coaching team found a way to Kilbrin.
“He brought experience to the table, a great motivator, without being aggressive, his team talks would put the hair standing, always emphasising, the importance of playing for Kilbrin,” said captain Dan O’Sullivan.
That 1978 campaign saw them defeat Banteer by a six-point margin in the opening round. In a semi-final clash against a strong Newmarket outfit, Kilbrin’s pace helped them survive a stern test and emerge with a two-point win.
On the opposite side of the draw, Tullylease were netting goals to overcome defending champions Meelin and then Kanturk in the semi-final, yet they were considered outsiders against a pacy Kilbrin.
“The fear was of maybe the Kilbrin players getting carried away by complacency from the talk of supporters but we were certainly not coming to just march behind the band for there was a task to be completed on attempting to win a divisional championship,” said O’Sullivan.
The early exchanges were keen, the play swinging from end to end during the opening 20 minutes before the tide turned in Kilbrin’s favour once Tom O’Riordan netted. On the restart, Kilbrin’s game really took flight, in defence, team captain O’Sullivan, Michael Dennehy and Johnny Moylan held sway in a tightly aligned rearguard as Pat Field became increasingly assertive in the centre.
And in attack, Kilbrin’s, mixture of space and flair functioned with a growing threat that yielded goals from Tom Field and Donie O’Mahony for the men in blue and white surge into a 15 points advantage.
Tullylease received some crumbs of comfort from a Jessie O’Callaghan goal from a free, and well-struck points by PJ Stokes. Ultimately, Tullylease seldom threatened to come to terms with the energy and skill of a sharper Kilbrin combination.
And Kilbrin finished on the ascendency, fittingly, player/trainer Kelleher on hand to net to claim the inevitable victory on a 4-14 to 1-8 scoreline.
Into the county, Kilbrin attempted to preserve their championship aspirations but lacked the efficiency of a Mayfield side that progressed to a final and claim a first victory against Carrigtwohill. Still, delight for Kilbrin, when history beckoned, the men of 1978 answered the call to savour divisional honours.