A hotbed of East Cork hurling: Russell Rovers and Fr O'Neill's deliver

A hotbed of East Cork hurling: Russell Rovers and Fr O'Neill's deliver
Russell Rovers' Bud Hartnett in possession against St Mary's Aidan Kearney during the AIB Munster Club Junior Hurling final in Fraher Field. Picture: Sean Byrne

SUCCESS for Cork clubs in the provincial and All-Ireland Club SHC has been very difficult to come by in recent times but that certainly has not been the case in the lower grades.

When the season resumes after the festive break, two small Cork units will be fancied to make it through to Croke Park a fortnight later for the junior and intermediate finals.

Given that the two clubs practically sit on top of each other that would be a phenomenal achievement and in that part of East Cork where they reside there would not be a dog or a cat left in the villages.

For a couple of hours on a Saturday evening Jones’ Road would be a sea of colour signalling the arrival of Russell Rovers and Fr O’Neill’s.

Nothing should be taken for granted, however, and there’s All-Ireland semi-final hurdles to be negotiated for both, Russell Rovers against a club from Galway and O’Neill’s against a club representing Mayo.

In both instances the two East Cork clubs will be fancied but nothing is a given on those days.

Fr O’Neill’s have been down this road before, winning the All-Ireland in the season of 2005 and 2006.

But it’s going to be complete new territory for Russell Rovers, a trip into the unknown but one that they are very much looking forward to.

Their excellent coach Noel Furlong summed it up perfectly in the aftermath of their superb win in last Sunday’s Munster final over St Mary’s from Waterford, you might never again get an opportunity like this.

And he was so right, rarely does a small club get a second bite at this type of cherry.

Russell Rovers story becomes more remarkable with every passing game.

For years they plodded along as a club that always made the effort without any real success.

A few ‘B’ tiles, a few semi-final appearances when they were elevated to junior ‘A’ and a good win here and there.

The club itself was struggling not that long ago, its existence a worry but that was then and this is now.

Last year they won the East Cork for the first time, lost a counyt but learned from that and as they say, the rest is history Las Sunday in the old Fraher Field in Dungarvan they put their bodies on the line again against a gritty St Mary’s side.

Hurling in the month of December in very unfavourable conditions is very much a case of having to dig out what you earn.

And despite the gap between the two sides at the finish, Russell Rovers had to earn this.

It wasn’t until the final quarter that their greater firepower and balance throughout the field made the difference.

In this grade of hurling a couple of good scoring forwards can make all the difference and Russell Rovers are fortunate to have Josh Beausang and Bud Hartnett in their ranks.

That’s not diminishing the efforts of the rest of the team, players like Daniel and Kevin Moynihan, Jack McGrath, JP Ivers, Kieran Walsh, Luke Duggan Murray, Ross Walsh and the rest Everybody on this team has contributed to this fantastic story of success but it’s similar in any team, a couple of scoring forwards point you in the right direction.

There was hardly a minute on the clock last Sunday when Beausang clung a goal after being set up by Hartnett.

It was the perfect start to what was to turn into a perfect day Much later in the game, Hartnett drilled in his goal and as they say, that my fiends was that.

Beausang’s accuracy from the placed ball in hugely difficult conditions was superb, his point from a sideline worth the admission fee alone.

But this is a Russell Rovers unit of unsung heroes all over the field, superbly managed by Noel Furlong and very well managed by Michael Mannion and Eoin Ivers and all the rest.

Furlong led Fr O’Neill’s to a county intermediate title a few years back, now he has hopped over the fence to bring similar success to Russell Rovers.

He’s a hurling man from Carrigtwohill through and through, won a senior county with Carrigtwohill in 2011 and he’s the Cork U16 manager for the coming year.

So, similar to O’Neill’s a few years ago, the Rovers have the right man doing the coaching duties It was cold, windy and wet at times in the Fraher Field but there’s something about these days in dark December that brings out the true meaning of the GAA.

These are grassroots days, small clubs climbing on to the big stage and for the victors afterwards, their joy has no limits.

Fr O'Neill's Billy Dunne celebrates his goal against Ballysaggart. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Fr O'Neill's Billy Dunne celebrates his goal against Ballysaggart. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

These are the days that sustain you during the long nights ahead and the anticipation of what’s to come in the All-Ireland In the fine programme for last Sunday’s game, the player profile section featured Russell Rovers goalkeeper Ross Walsh and one had to smile brightly at the answer he gave to one of the questions, to date what is your favourite moment in sport?

His answer: When John Terry slipped and cost Chelsea the Champions League final against United in 2008.

Brilliant, a man after my own heart.

Yes, last Sunday was another very good day for Cork club hurling, admittedly at a lower grade but this is the grade that’s after all the life and soul of the GAA.

Russell Rovers have done their people proud over the past few months and they are not finished at all yet.

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