THE divisional junior championships may not carry the weight of significance that they once did but for the small clubs involved, particularly at rural level the final day is one of the biggest in their history.
In East Cork, the junior hurling championship has never lost its appeal and when you have two teams contesting a final and endeavouring to win it for the first time ever, it captures the imagination of the entire division.
That was the case last Sunday, Russell Rovers going up against St Ita’s. Neither side having captured the famed Jamesy Kelleher Cup before.
A huge attendance turned up in Castlemartyr and as events transpired the glory belonged to the team from Shanagarry.
For obvious reasons, their joy knew no bounds at the conclusion, tears of joy were in plentiful supply as they took possession of the old trophy.
In the aftermath of what was a historic occasion for one of the division’s oldest and proudest clubs, Club spokesperson Dick Fitzgerald outlined what the day had meant and what it will do going forward.
“Look, it was our greatest day, there’s no doubt about that. The East Cork championship remains a very cherished competition and up to last Sunday we had never managed to win it.
“We got to the final last year, lost to St Catherine ’s and we lost one back in 2006 to Dungourney.
“We have won the junior B hurling title a few times and that was important but there’s no comparison to the A championship. Sunday was all the more significant because St Ita’s had never managed to win it either so either way it was going to be huge.’’
At the end of it all, Russell Rovers had seven points to spare with their big players, Bud Hartnett and Josh Beausang delivering 1-7 between them.
“Bud rejoined the club after a spell with Midleton and he played a big part and got man of the match, Josh is a very talented forward and at this level when you have players like that, it makes a big difference.
“But it was an entire team effort, a squad effort. We brought in Frank Flannery as coach last November and he put in trojan work with the players.
“They responded and the reward was forthcoming on Sunday.’’
Years of toil and hardship were forgotten about at the final whistle and Fitzgerald remembered some of those who had worn the jersey without any great success.
“Yes, we thought of the Walshs’, the Shanahans and many more on Sunday, a lot now deceased but there in spirit with us.
“I suppose for a club like ours it is all about staying with it, try to get the structures in place and building up from underage.
“We are joined with Cloyne at that level, St Colman’s and we have two county finals coming up at under-14 and under-16.’’ And what about the celebrations on Sunday night?
“Let’s say it was a late night. Look, it was fantastic to bring the trophy to Shanagarry. We came back to the Goal Post and had a monster barbeque.
“But it will be back to business again in a few days. There’s a county now to look forward to and you want to do well in that.
“You want to represent the division as well as you can and, traditionally, East Cork clubs have done well in the county.
”St Catherine’s won it last year and it would be great to emulate them.
“But that’s a long way off and for now it’s just a case of enjoying this victory and getting going again.’’
And there was praise too for the management team.
“Yes, Mike Manning and Eoin Ivers did a great job in that regard. Frank (Flannery) had the team really well coached and the players now have East Cork junior medals.
“Growing up winning an East Cork medal meant a lot and that is something that cannot be taken away from the players now.’’
A great day indeed for a small rural club deep in East Cork, one that has always managed to keep its head above water in good times and not so good.
They have toiled for many years without any great success but on Sunday evening they left Castlemartyr with the prize they had wanted so much for so long.
It will shorten the long winter in Shanagarry and the neighbouring townlands.