THERE is an enduring image of Newtownshandrum team boss Bernie O’Connor on his knees, arms raised to the heavens after the final whistle had blown in the 2000 Cork County SHC final.
The small North Cork club had triumphed over Erin’s Own to win the title for the first time in their history.
What followed was many more memorable triumphs, three county titles, two Munster club championships and an All-Ireland club championship.
It was the time of their lives in this great hurling home but it was that first Cork title that is recalled with the greatest fondness.
Simon Morrissey was a selector on that team alongside Bernie O’Connor and Jim Coughlan and he spoke to the Echo about that never to be forgotten season.
“It’s hard to believe now that it’s 20 years ago, how times flies. It was a magnificent achievement when you reflect on it, a small club taking on the big guns and coming out on tops.
“There was always a great passion for hurling in Newtown, great hurlers like the four Herlihys, the Morrisseys, Seanie Clifford and others. We went up senior in 1996 after winning the intermediate county the year before.
“I suppose really the big thing for us was that we had a base to build from, we had won the Cork County U21 title the two previous seasons and the team of 2000 was backboned by them.
“We had a good team, a good balance too and we had the O’Connor boys Ben and Jerry and Pat Mulcahy who all went on to have great days with Cork afterwards.
“When you had those type of players, you had a good starting off point, great leaders."
But it was a team effort, a united front that won the day and subsequently the successes that followed.
“Yes, no doubt, you had great club hurlers, Dan Riordan, Donal and Brendan Mulahy, JP King, Phil Noonan, Alan T O’Brien, Paul and Mike Morrissey and all the others.
“A lot of the players had that winning mentality from the U21 wins but winning a senior title was much different, much harder.
“You had Bernie O’Connor at the helm, he got the best out of the players, a great motivator and the players responded accordingly.
“All the players had come up through the ranks, they knew each other very well and it was a case of it all coming together that year."
En-route to the final, Newtown had four hurdles to overcome, defeating Ballincollig in the first round, UCC in round two, Avondhu in the quarter-final and Muskerry in the semi-final while Erin’s Own had seen off the Glen, the Barrs, Carbery and Imokilly.
“We were underdogs in the final," Morrissey recalls. "They had impressed a lot in getting there but we believed in our own ability.
“We had a tragedy the week before the final when the Mulcahys lost their dad and that was a terrible blow in the entire community.
“But those lads went out and were just great for us, what a great family. I believe that we were the better team in the final but it was still in the melting pot right to the final whistle.
“They got a last-gasp free to win it, it was stopped first but the ball ended up in the net only for a free out to be given and we survived.
“I think most people would say, however, that we deserved the win. Pat Mul was brilliant that day, the O’Connors too but everybody put it on the line for us."
The scenes that followed were incredible, recalls Morrissey.
“You could say we had reached the promised land, winning a Cork County SHC was unbelievable for a club like ours, we had great wins in the past but nothing could compare to this.
“Going back to the village that night and to witness the joy in the faces of our supporters was something I will never forget, everybody was out.
“There was the man of the match the following day in Cork and a couple of buses went up, we drank a few pints I can tell you.’’ Newtown went on to rule Cork club hurling for the next eight or nine years, adding three more titles and enjoying glorious days on the provincial and national stage.
“Going up to Croke Park and winning an All-Ireland club was extraordinary. We had great days everywhere, Thurles, Limerick but that Sunday in 2000 in Páirc Uí Chaoimh meant everything."
The Newtownshandrum team that day was: Paul Morrissey, John Griffin, Brendan Mulcahy, John McCarthy, Alan T O’Brien, Pat Mulcahy, Philip Noonan, Ian Kelleher, Declan Murphy, JP King, Michael Morrissey, Jerry O’Connor, Robert Troy, Donal Mulcahy, Ben O’Connor.
Sub: Dan Riordan.