IT WAS almost a year to the day, or night to be more accurate, that Rearden’s Club All-Star winner, Denis O’Brien, remembers togging out for training once more.
At the time, the disappointment of losing the 2017 county final after a replay to Nemo Rangers had diluted, though it still lingered.
No point wallowing, though, manager Ray Keane reckoning it best to get back on the horse again to prepare for 2018.
Then, almost 11 months later, on October 28, all the blood, sweat and tears of another protracted season paid off with St Finbarr’s ending a 33-year drought to collect the Andy Scannell Cup as Cork senior football champions.
For the 29-year-old O’Brien, a chemical engineer in Pfizer, it was new territory and, indeed, for the whole panel of players, as well.
“The biggest moment for me was walking up Bandon Road on the way to the club. “It was amazing to see crowds of people standing there and cheering us on. It was something special and then to see bonfires out by the club just added to it all.
“What was great, as well, was to see the reaction of the older people involved in the Barrs, those who thought they’d never see a county again,” he said.
Amid the euphoria at the final whistle to signal a 3-14 to 2-14 victory over Duhallow, it took the energetic half-forward almost 45 minutes to find his parents, Norma and Tony.
Also in attendance that fateful afternoon was another family member. “My grandmother, who is 84, came down to the game as well, her first game in 60 years, she told me.
“She’s the lucky charm and I said to her she will have to come to every game now. The poor woman will be worn out," O’Brien joked.
He’s created some CV in terms of county finals. A winner at minor and U21 levels, O’Brien was on the panel in 2008, when the Barr’s claimed the premier intermediate title following the previous season’s shock relegation from senior.
His involvement in the subsequent senior defeats in 2009 and 2010 only served to whet the appetite and O’Brien even played in the junior county final loss to Millstreet, four years ago.
It’s all a far cry from starting out with Deerpark in the street leagues and progressing through the various under-age grades to the current status of Cork kingpins.
Initially, O’Brien’s career began in defence, mainly due to his powerful frame and strength in possession before moving to midfield and more recently half-forward.
His role is typical of the modern day player with a huge emphasis on impressive fitness levels to cope with the huge demands on stamina from copious amounts of running. In O’Brien’s case, it’s the right flank of the pitch, but not exclusively.
“Ray refers to us as the donkeys, but I enjoy the hard work, all the same. I’ve never clocked how far I’ve run in games, but I’d guess it’s something between eight and 10 kms.
“It’s the way we play, too, because it’s a very fast pace, everyone gung-ho, up and down the pitch, defending from the front. Our mantra is that everyone puts in a shift.
“Ray has it driven into us that it breaks down if we don’t track all the runners because it’s easy for them to pop a ball over if one gets away unchallenged.”
While Steven Sherlock grabbed all the headlines with his phenomenal scoring rate, O’Brien is quite content to play his part as mainly creator and occasional finisher.
And still he managed to claim points in four of the five games en route to the title, finding the range against Carrigaline, Mallow, Douglas and Duhallow, only missing out on the semi-final against Carbery Rangers.
“Obviously, I wouldn’t be getting nine or 10 points a game like Sherlock, but I’d be good for a point a game usually. I got one just before half-time in the final, when we were four points down.”
The Barrs learned a number of invaluable lessons from the painful 2017 defeat which were put to good use this term.
“We started training for 2018 a year today (Wednesday, December 5). Form-wise, we probably didn’t hit the same heights as last year.
“It was really all about building up during the early part of the season and just taking it game by game.
“It’s a very long season, starting out in April, so that was one of the lessons we learned.
“We were going to pace ourselves because it’s almost like pre-season again, when you’re out in the third round.
“You don’t want to peak in April, when it’s all about just getting over the first round and gearing up for September again.”
In general, the Barrs were comfortable enough on their way to the title, defeating Carrigaline and Mallow first before Douglas troubled them a bit late on.
“But, we didn’t play at all in the first half of the semi-final against Carbery Rangers.
“There’s no kind of magic potion with Ray, who just reminded us we were in the same position in the two county finals last year and just needed to be ourselves again.
“We knew we had it in us. It was just a question of all of us standing up and taking responsibility.
“There was no sense of panic, again something we learned from 2017, and we just needed to click as a team and trust each other.
“The final showed me how strong a panel of players we have because it was the likes of Eoin Finn and Colm Barrett who made a huge difference when they came on. It really is a 21-man game these days.
“The final whistle brought a mixture of elation and relief. There was always a fear that in years to come we’d be looking back and saying we nearly won a county. The monkey is off our back now, for sure. The big thing for the younger fellows is to realise getting to and winning senior counties doesn’t happen every year.
“It takes a lot of hard work.”