EXPERIENCED Knocknagree defender Jerry Carroll was rewarded for his dedication over two decades playing with his beloved side when they captured county, Munster and All-Ireland football success over the last few months.
Last season proved a dream come through for the veteran footballer who has represented his club with great distinction for over 26 seasons. Jerry was delighted to savour an historic treble last season which was a long time coming for the North Cork side.
“It was an unreal feeling to be crowned All-Ireland champions. I spent 24 years training to win the Duhallow JAFC division. I was part of Knocknagree teams that lost eight Duhallow semi-finals in a row, so winning Cork, Munster and All-Ireland championship titles is really the stuff of dreams,” revealed the defensive stalwart.
Knocknagree captured All-Ireland junior club championship glory following their four point win against Westmeath outfit Multyfarmham in Croke Park recently. Jerry who received a huge ovation upon his arrival onto the hallowed Croke Park sod savoured the experience of playing in an All-Ireland final for his beloved Knocknagree.
“Playing in Croke Park at any level or age is an absolute privilege. I played there in 1992 with Kerry schools, which I try to keep quiet from the Cork lads!
"A lot has changed there since, but the surface is constantly outstanding. It was a great achievement to win an All-Ireland club title. The celebrations are dying down now, I think! The journey over the course of the last year has injected new life into the parish and beyond.”
Jerry, who is now 43-years-old, was delighted with his introduction as a substitute during the recent All-Ireland club final. The talismanic Knocknagree defensive player can still vividly recall the elation and joy he felt when the full-time whistle sounded.
“I was delighted and very grateful to the management team for bringing me on as it meant a lot to me. I was however gutted for the other subs that didn’t come on. I felt every emotion at the final whistle to be honest. There is something special about being in that historical cauldron with so many neighbours and friends present.
"It was a great moment and a memory that I will cherish forever.”
Jerry believes the Knocknagree players dedication and strength of character were the key drivers in their historic success over the course of recent months.
“During the whole campaign this group of players just kept their head down, never got phased by any challenge and tried to improve game by game.
"I have never been involved with a group who got on so well. We have great craic in the dressing room which relieves a lot of tension and helps players relax and enjoy their football.”
Knocknagree were guided to glory by the legendary coach John Fintan Daly.
“I suppose when a certain John Fintan Daly takes over a team you believe anything is possible with his track record, professionalism and dedication. Massive credit must go to our mentors - John Horgan (a wily Kerryman), Edmond McSweeney, Billy O’Neill and Sean Sheehan for their absolute attention to detail.
"I think they are all secretly squatting in the dressing rooms. They worked great together all year.”
The Knocknagree players displayed great bravery throughout their historic season. This is best typified by the courage of Danny Cooper played the All-Ireland final with a fracture in his leg.
“His performances since he started out for this team have been nothing short of inspirational. Danny playing with a fractured bone in his leg comes as no surprise to me.
"Likewise Eoghan McSweeney was never going to miss the match with his shoulder injury given the true Knocknagree family he comes from.
"There is a great spirit in the camp.”
Jerry has experienced a lot of highs and lows over the years since he first started playing adult football with Knocknagree in 1992.
He has often contemplated retirement, but his sheer love for Knocknagree and a hunger for success has always persuaded him to keep playing.
“It has to be the best season on a personal level. I never gave up believing we could win a divisional title especially with the recent installment of players into our squad.
"We had a lot of near misses. However, once we won a divisional title it was then you begin to believe a county title was possible.
"Defeat to Gabriel Rangers last year and Boherbue this year kept our feet firmly on the ground.
"I’ve been thinking about retiring on each of the last ten seasons, but every time some whippersnapper from an opposing side said something smart to me, it seemed to recharge my batteries.”
Jerry has no immediate plans with regards his playing future. He is presently contemplating his plans.
“I’m presently nursing a range of injuries too long to mention, so I can’t see myself playing any ball at the moment.
"I am looking forward to the intermediate championship, even if only as a spectator. I played in the grade previously and it should suit our teams style of play.
"There are a lot of fine sides in the intermediate grade, but I would be hopeful of claiming a few scalps.”