WHEN you accompany a team on the incredible journey that Fr O’Neill’s have been on for the best part of the last 12 months, it’s only natural that you build up a sort of relationship with them.
They are not the club that you belong to but, at the same time, you want them to do well.
In the business that we work in that’s what happens, all the more so the longer the journey goes on.
And that was the case last Saturday in Croke Park, that team on the last lap of that journey.
In this case, it was two teams, only a lengthy puck of a ball dividing them deep in the heart of East Cork.
Russell Rovers accompanied O’Neill’s to headquarters, gave it their very best shot but in the end they came up short and there were no complaints afterward, the Kilkenny team Conahy Shamrocks were deserving winners.
However, it was an entirely different story with Fr O’Neill’s.
They lost too, by the barest of margins but could you say that they were inferior to their rivals, another great Kilkenny hurling home, Tullaroan?
O’Neill’s were equal to them in everything that transpired in Croke Park last Saturday night except that the scoreline at the death had Tullaroan ahead by a point.
They say a point is as good as 10 goals and maybe it is but nothing, absolutely nothing divided these two teams.
It is this observer’s opinion that when two teams reach an All-Ireland and cannot be separated after the 60 plus minutes they should get a second chance in a replay.
Maybe not in Croke Park but at some other suitable venue.
But the GAA make the rules and, rightly or wrongly, you abide by them.
O’Neill’s and Russell Rovers too have been incredible ambassadors for Cork GAA over the past few months and both should be immensely proud of what they have achieved.
For O’Neill’s, in particular, that is probably poor consolation after their participation in one of the great games of hurling. If we see a better second-half of hurling for the rest of the year it will have to be some game.
Before the start last Saturday a minutes silence was observed for a great O’Neill’s man, Brendan Aherne and that was only right and proper for one of their own and one of the best.
There’s no point in going back over the game now, there were turning points throughout the hour where both sides were concerned but the honesty and application never flagged.
O’Neill’s banged in five goals, in nine out of 10 circumstances that would have done the job but not here and Tullaroan deserve all the praise they can get for overcoming those concessions.
No quarter was asked or given on this bitterly cold Saturday night in Dublin. There wasn’t a foul stroke in the entire game, it was superbly refereed, there wasn’t a bother.
Somehow, Tullaroan manufactured a winning point deep into stoppage time and the three minutes that had been allotted had extended into four when the outstanding Shane Walsh nailed the winner.
It was a great score because it was a real pressure shot, miss it and the pendulum might have swung O’Neill’s way in extra-time.
Some of the scores over the hour were breathtaking, Deccie Dalton’s second goal was one of the best this old ground has ever seen.
O’Neill’s had to line out without two key men because of suspension and their officials must be applauded for going to the ends of the earth in their attempts in trying to get those bans overturned.
Of course, they were a loss, Mark O’Keeffe and Billy Dunne are two fine hurlers and would have made a difference.
But the lads who replaced them and the others who came in did not let the side down.
Not one word of criticism could be directed at any member of this O’Neill’s squad, throughout a very long year, through Cork and Munster and far beyond they represented their jersey with pride and in saying that so did Russell Rovers.
Of course, there will be regrets in both clubs, that’s only natural but there should be none.
It has been a memorable journey and being in the Croke Park Hotel before the game it was taken over by East Cork.
So many from outside both clubs had come up to support them and that was a story in itself We have to mention two O’Neill’s players, Podge Butler and Eoin Conway.
Fifteen years ago they were on the right side of their other big day at headquarters and they were still doing the business all those years later.
Conway scored a superb goal, got a few points too and what a wonderful servant he has been to this club, Podge too.
What a weekend it was for Kilkenny, three finals, three victories but the one we’ll remember for its splendour was O’Neill’s and Tullaroan.
This was Cork and Kilkenny hurling in all its grandeur. This is what makes hurling great So, for now, the journey ends for O’Neill’s.
They ‘ll have a short enough respite before the commencement of the Cork SHL and in that space of time they should reflect on what they did.
They did themselves, their families, East Cork, Cork and Munster proud.
So too did Russell Rovers and we should take nothing away from them.
It was a privilege to have been able to accompany both of them on most of their journey, O’Neill’s that bit more because we got to see all their games.
Both can hold their heads high.