THE great GAA stories happen this time of year.
If there was more a sense of relief than anything at having finally reached that holy grail in the end for Mourneabbey ladies and it seemed somehow like it was meant to be, it might be worth reflecting on exactly where this group has come from to fully get the big deal of becoming the best ladies football team in the country.
For a long time they weren’t the best ladies football team in their division and it’s remarkable to think that when Ciara O’Sullivan started playing football for the adult side Mourneabbey were a junior club or that as recently as 2014 she booked a holiday for that October because they’d never really imagined playing football at that time of year with the club.
When Clyda Rovers brought out a book that winter entitled ‘The Glory years 1997-2013’ there was a chapter on the Mourneabbey ladies team but they hadn’t yet won a senior county title at that stage; now they’ve got five counties and at last an All-Ireland title.
Just as it was pointed out all last Sunday evening how the Mullinalaghta story summed up everything possible in the GAA, well this Mourneabbey journey has had everything too.
There’s the tale of a club from somewhere that really has no business competing for and winning counties and Munsters and All-Irelands other than pure drive from a bunch of individuals to get things started and willingness to keep on pushing to make themselves as good as possible.
It wasn’t a population boom or any kind of artificial advantages that created this march from junior to senior champions over this 15 years, simply a lot of work in developing an underage club that would bring through skilful and ambitious players.
There’s a great report from a minor final with St Val’s from around 2006 where Mourneabbey won a county title and it’s striking how a lot of the names are still there, from Cathy Ann Stack at number three to Kathryn Coakley and Eimear Harrington and of course the O’Sullivans (somehow Doireann is named on that minor side even though she must have been barely 12), who make up that family element of any great local GAA journey.
In the same way, you can’t imagine the Castlehaven rise happening without the Collins/Clearys/Cahalanes, it’s hard to put into detail just what might have been lost if the O’Sullivans hadn’t rocked up in the parish all those years ago. The intercounty activity and medals alone bring so much value in the way of offering the local hero for girls to look up to.
It’s almost impossible to find any game in this last five seasons especially that hasn’t borne the fingerprints of one of the sisters' influence.
The Mourneabbey style has been there a while, that hard –running, athletic, ball-carrying ability.
The influence of coach Shane Ronayne can hardly be overstated, from bringing an obvious step-up in preparation and ambition to win titles from the start to the players clear insistence he stick around to finish the job after last year’s All-Ireland defeat especially to even the recognition in the build-up to last weekend that the players didn’t need to focus on previous defeats and got more benefit from positive thinking on the performance ahead.
And yet, any team needs that stardust quality that will win games and Mourneabbey have one of the best around.
James Masters, who knows a thing or two about taking scores, has referenced Doireann O’Sullivan’s kicking ability as the best around and all her game knowledge on how to influence a big game was there against Foxrock.
On her first possession, O’Sullivan simply turned, headed straight for goal and thumped a point over, a real statement of intent. A minute or two later she took another handpass and under pressure from two defenders and slightly losing balance, she hooked another point.
She added frees and later in the half kicked another score from play, losing her marker cleverly from a free-kick to find space and kick another lovely point.
She spotted a chance to target the opposition kick-out, intercepted, ran the ball right into the goal zone to make sure and set up the decisive score for Laura Fitzgerald — you can almost see her working out exactly what angle she needed to run to give the best possible chance of a goal being scored and that nothing sloppy was going to happen to ruin the chance.
Again, that element of a story coming together, setting up a goal for Fitzgerald when they’ve played together right through the ages and have worked that same two-on-one who knows how many times.
There was something of that in pretty much everything Mourneabbey did, from the hunting in packs to the fluent movement of the ball, that suggested at that history of a group that has played so many games and trained together so many times that these pieces come together naturally.
There’s something interesting as well in their ability to keep going — remember they’ve not had it easy in Cork even, last year West Cork gave them a thumping and this year it took a replay in the final to see off the same team so it hasn’t been a given to just waltz into another All-Ireland final — and in their willingness to locate another way in the end to finish the job.
There’s another element too that makes it the perfect GAA story, this aspect of adding to Cork ladies legacy at a time when ladies football has never been more a part of the sporting culture (and ladies GAA and ladies sport in general even has never had more genuine depth of talent) and yet still needed every push for recognition of that.
Cork has added the personalities and that one great team that’s always needed to bring a sport into the public eye more and if it’s been slightly unusual that Cork clubs haven’t taken full advantage over that dominant period, well Mourneabbey have made that leap.
They’ve shown it’s possible for a group of ladies from a small part of Cork to become the best team in the country.
The local community could hardly have better role models.
Others might follow. Everything is possible.
Mourneabbey have seen to that.