IT’S of little consolation to the huge numbers from Charleville who turned up in Croke Park last Sunday that their team gave it their best shot which ultimately ended in failure against a very good Oranmore-Maree team from Galway in the All-Ireland club final.
This was the second time in just over 10 years that a team representing this proud North Cork club had graced headquarters on an All-Ireland club final day and it was a similar outcome back then when they played in the junior final.
That made last Sunday’s defeat all the harder to take even more so for the four or five players who were involved on both occasions.
One of them was team captain Danny O’Flynn who must have been heartbroken at being on the losing side again. A lesser man would have hidden away in a dark corner of Croke Park before boarding the team bus that took the team to Heuston Station for the journey home.
But this fellow didn’t do that, he came out to talk to the media in the aftermath of his second day of heartbreak at this venue, a captain one more time leading by example, doing something that a lot more in his position would not have done.
The three wise men who had guided the fortunes of the team all season did the same.
Ben O’Connor, John Moloney and Tony McAuliffe all walked in together to the press room beneath the Hogan Stand to speak of their disappointment but, at the same time, great pride in what their players had achieved on a remarkable journey.
In situations like that you rarely get more than one person talking but here you had these fellows doing what they had been doing all season, carrying themselves with great dignity in joy or heartbreak. And for that they deserve special mention.
Ben O’Connor has had some of his greatest days on the pitch outside, both with Cork and Newtownshandrum but he declared that the defeat was one of his greatest disappointments.
He was measured in everything that he said, no outbursts about the fact that his team had ended with just 13 players, just pride in what they had achieved, of doing everything that he had asked of them on a journey that had begun 13 months earlier.
One day we might see him with another team wearing red in Croke Park and that would be a big bonus for Cork hurling.
Ultimately, it all came down to a numbers game last Sunday, the team with the highest numbers both on the scoreboard and on the field of play carrying the day.
Charleville didn’t moan about the two dismissals, taking them on the chin and trying to get on with it.
Nine times out of 10 in a tight game the team with two extra players on the field coming down the home stretch is going to prevail and that’s what transpired.
A six-point loss wasn’t a true reflection of the game because going into stoppage time there was just a point separating them.
But Oranmore had that extra fuel in the tank, the extra bodies and that told in the final couple of minutes.
One could say that Charleville led at one stage by seven points and they did but in a game of hurling that’s no guarantee anymore.
We saw at intercounty level last season bigger leads being wiped out and we are now at a stage that a seven, eight or nine-point advantage is just as dangerous as a two-point one.
Croke Park was cold and raw last Sunday but there is something extra special about these days, these club final days.
The junior final very nearly became the hurling story of the year, of all the years when 66/1 outsiders Castleblayney from Monaghan led Dunammaggin from Kilkenny by five points at one stage.
Ultimately, they came up short by three but what a performance they gave, the team from a county not exactly renowned for its hurling exploits.
But that’s what makes these club days so special, they are such a great leveller and, despite their loss, they’ll never forget this day in Castleblayney, the day they frightened the lives out of Kilkenny’s best.
This was David and Goliath, if there was ever one.
But back to Charleville, what a year it has been, Cork and Munster champions going to play senior hurling in a few weeks time. That was the only objective back last January but as Ben O’Connor suggested afterwards, as the season progresses you become that bit greedier.
This is basically a very young Charleville team that should have no fears of going up senior. That experience from the past 13 months or so is sure to an energiser going forward.
A lot of young men grew up in those months and when you have a player of the immense class and ability of Darragh Fitzgibbon, you have a nice start.
Last Sunday was always going to be about the few intercounty players on duty and Oranmore had two of them, Gearoid McInerney, son of the great Gerry who was the team boss on Sunday and Niall Burke.
The latter had a huge say in the outcome and his 1-11 haul ultimately made the difference.
Darragh Fitz returned 0-10 for Charleville, another huge return for the young man who might just have felt the knee injury that he sustained in the semi-final win over Graigue-Ballycallan in the final quarter or so after playing himself to a standstill earlier on. Charleville have provided great entertainment and joy for so many over the past couple of months.
It was an incredible journey even it did just come up short in the end.
It was a privilege to have been on that journey with them.
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