GAELIC football might have captured the bigger headlines in recent times in Ballincollig, but there is a long-standing tradition of hurling in the club that the members are very proud of and who place a lot of emphasis in keeping it that way.
It would be fair to say that it’s a thriving dual club now, bidding strongly for honours in both codes and doing a very good job in doing so.
For this week, however, it’s hurling that dominates the landscape in the satellite town, or ‘the Village’ as they prefer to be known, and a county intermediate final on Sunday against Blackrock has their members buzzing with anticipation.
The long-term goal would be participation at senior level with the big and the small ball, but to achieve that a number of significant steps have to be taken.
A win on Sunday would be one in the right direction and team boss Danny O’Dwyer is hopeful it can be taken.
He spoke to the Evening Echo during the week about the importance of hurling in the mid-Cork club.
“There’s a big tradition of hurling in the village, a lot of the old-timers here in the club would tell you that we were in three senior hurling finals, lost a replay to the Barrs in one of them.
“I suppose, looking at the size of the town, we should be playing at a higher level and I suppose that is our job to try and get there.
“As far as I know, ourselves and the Glen have seven intermediate titles which is the most in Cork and we’d certainly like to add to that.
“So, the tradition in the club is very strong where hurling is concerned and that is something we are very proud of.’’
Similar to every other club in the county, it all starts at underage level and Ballincollig have not been found wanting in that respect.
“Last week we won another U16 Premier 2 county championship. Last year’s U16s went up minor and acquitted themselves well.
“All our underage teams are doing very well in hurling, we are not winning county titles every year, but we are competing in Premier 1 and I think that is far better.
“At least you are holding your own with the big boys and it’s a better standard of hurling and ultimately you want to bring fellows through at that level because you will be a better hurler coming out of the underage ranks.’’
Going into the schools in the area has been a big positive and getting youngsters involved in the game at the youngest age possible is laying down a solid base from which to build on.
“Yes, my brother John was put into the schools three or four years ago. Podsie O’Mahony was in there before him, did a great job too.
“The club gets a great response and appreciation from the schools and the work we put in there.
“John is in there now on a full-time basis. He does the national schools and he does the secondary schools as well and that is starting to rub off in the club.
“Every youngster wants to play hurling now and football too. They do football too in the schools as well.
“Ladies football and camogie numbers have increased also and all of that is down to the schools’ programme.’’
Like all GAA clubs in these type of towns, there is the appeal too of other sporting codes, soccer and rugby making big calls on young people and O’Dwyer accepts that you have to be on your toes in that regard.
“Of course, that is the case and if you were talking to the rugby and the soccer lads they’d say the same thing.
“Population does not really guarantee you anything. We have a big membership here and yes we are vying with other codes in trying to get young boys and girls to come down here.
“It’s a long road no matter what code you are in. You try to get them down initially and then try to keep them here.
“We start off with maybe 80 under sixes every year but when you come to 13 or 14 if you have held on to 35 of the best of them you are doing well.
“Not every fellow can make the top team, there are numerous other teams to be filled in the club too, but there is a grade for everybody in the club to play and that’s a big part of it.
Any major problems with being a very strong dual club?
“No, to be honest. We all try to get on as best we can. We have a lot of collective training at the start of the year with all the senior teams and that works out well.
“We don’t own the players, the footballers don’t own the players and once you put on the Ballincollig jersey, hurling or football, they try their best in each code.’’
For now, though, it’s all about Sunday against the Rockies in a competition that has been ultra-competitive from the outset. It might be a step down from senior, but there are no trophies handed out for potential.
Dwyer has some trusty lieutenants alongside him, Tom Weste, Donie Hegarty, Don Walshe, and Paul O’Connor.
They’ll be hoping the likes of Cian Dorgan, Liam Jennings, captain, Ciarán O’Sullivan, David Bowen, and Rory O’Doherty, who lined out as a minor when Collig beat Blarney in 1999, offer leadership on the pitch.
Youngsters like Ross O’Donovan, Karl Walsh, Robbie Bourke, and Luke Fahy looked the part in the semi-final against Mayfield.
“It’s a hard grind and that has been the case for us in getting to the final. Some say there are too many teams in it and that’s a fair point, but they’ll look at that in time probably.
“Within this competition, you could have two tiers and it is a minefield really.
“I say to the lads that if you can get a bit of luck and stay in the competition until August, and you have your panel together after battling exams and holidays, you are giving yourself a fair crack at it.”
It didn’t start well back in the spring, losing to Meelin, but it’s been onwards and upwards since.
“Yes, we lost to Meelin but that was the one game in the last few years that we probably learned more from losing than winning.
“We were six points up and we lost our way and could not complain, but we learned so much from it. We made a good few minor, major adjustments, whatever you want to call it. We brought in different fellows to do different things and maybe if we had won, it would have papered over things that we found out about ourselves that day, it was really a blessing in disguise.”
Milford, Midleton and Mayfield were subsequently beaten and now it’s the final frontier on Sunday.
“You must give Blackrock credit for getting to the final. A few years ago they were winning minor and U21 titles down there for fun in top grade hurling.
“All those players are playing still, not all of them senior, but they have loads of good hurlers throughout the club.
“They have good hurling men in charge and they have beaten Éire Óg who were in the final last year, a fancied Kildorrery before that, so we know what lies ahead.
“But we’ll be ready and we are looking forward to it. We always get huge support for football and hurling and it will a very big occasion in the club.
“But, from our viewpoint, we don’t want to be playing the occasion and our job is to prepare the team in the best way possible, the occasion will take care of itself.”