TEN years after playing an inspiring role in Carrigtwohill’s unexpected senior county win, Niall McCarthy continues his hurling adventures as a selector with the Cork minor team.
The 39-year-old PE and history teacher enjoyed a stellar career with club and county and only last season made a comeback in the famous blue and gold jersey when he lined out in the Premier Senior Hurling Championship.
The 2004 All-Star has already made a big impression in his role as mentor and coach with amongst others his involvement with Aghada, Russell Rovers and UCC earning many plaudits.
Now McCarthy is on familiar territory again, side-by-side with his lifetime friend Noel Furlong, who is at the helm of a highly-rated Cork minor crop. The duo soldiered together on and off the field, and McCarthy’s knowledge and passion for the sport he loves will be big pluses over the coming months.
The offer to be part of the young Rebels' management team was an opportunity he was never going to turn down, having been involved with this group through the development squads.
“I was delighted when Noel asked me to get involved as coach and selector and at the moment with the other selectors, we feel we have a nice thing going.
“In GAA everybody wants to know when they will be playing again but there is no point being negative about the situation as it is.
“There are a number of players with us who were with the group at minor level last year and obviously we have worked with a lot of them at U16 level.
“Some of the things we have focused on as a management group include the importance of getting to know the players along with the values of friendship and trust. We are trying to get the correct balance between professionalism and fun.
“It’s a cliche but we are taking it one step at a time. Last year there was talk in the media about the success Cork teams enjoyed at underage, but it hasn’t materialised at minor level, so we don’t want to be putting pressure on players.
“Don’t get me wrong, no stone will be left unturned to maximise this team’s potential — to make that a reality, we are conscious of the importance of each player feeling totally part of the setup and enjoying the journey.”
Before lockdown stalled the sporting world last year, UCC’s Fitzgibbon Cup success in the spring comes to mind as an instant highlight in Niall’s recent hurling memory bank.
“Tom Kingston was manager of that team with Noel and myself as coaches. It was unbelievably enjoyable to be working with the cream of the crop in terms of players. Ultimately it was great to get over the line in the final.
“In general, I am really enjoying coaching — it is certainly a bit of an art. I am very anxious to evolve and learn off everyone.
I look back now and nearly cringe at the way I was coaching when I began a number of years ago.
“In fairness now with the Cork minors, Noel and Ger O’Regan are just exceptional at their trade. I don’t think there are many better than them that I could be learning from at the moment.”
Naill has two All Ireland senior medals and three Munster senior medals alongside that aforementioned All-Star in 2004, a year which also saw him collect the Man of the Match award for his heroic performance against Kilkenny.
“Yes, we had really something to prove that day having lost in 2003 when we all felt we left ourselves and the supporters down.
“To get the victory was really special,” recalls Niall also won All-Ireland medals at minor and intermediate level.
At club level, the local hero contributed 13 points in Carrigtwohill’s never to be forgotten county senior winning campaign back in 2011, when they defied the odds, producing a series of sterling performances to lift the cup for the first time since 1918.
“Without doubt, it has been my career highlight. It was incredible.
We were total underdogs at the start of the year but we had an unbelievable bunch of players who were willing to die on the field to win the championship.
“We knew there were teams with a lot more talent but felt that no team was going to work harder than us.”
But after making something of a surprise comeback to the senior club action last term, Niall has confirmed that there will be no repeat scenario in 2021.
“Despite not playing for five years, I felt myself getting fit last year during lockdown and with the short season on the horizon, I decided to go back and give it another go.
“However, I kept picking up injuries again, so there will definitely not be a repeat.”
Finally, away from hurling, recent years have also brought success in another sport — as part of the UCC boxing team.
He has a special memory of another great sportsman from that night.
“In 2017 I was delighted to win a national college title in Dublin after a really tough battle.
“The late Maurice Walsh (trainer) was present and I can still hear him urging me to 'go forward'.
"He was an unbelievably selfless man and will be missed by so many people, a great character who put so many people on the right track in life.”