WHILE it is strictly speaking a group game, the terms are simple for the footballers of Éire Óg and Newcestown in Kilmurry this Sunday (2pm).
Their Bons Secours Hospital Cork PSFC Group B clash is to all intents and purposes a quarter-final play-off as both clubs go into the match on two points, though a draw would be sufficient for Éire Óg to progress on scoring difference.
Having led the Ovens club to the delayed 2020 senior A title with victory over Mallow earlier this year, Éire Óg manager Harry O’Reilly is looking forward to the tussle.
“Every game is a knockout one from now on,” he says, “that’s the way it is.
“When we were drawn in the group that we got and we were looking at the matches we had, we felt we had a chance of beating Carbery Rangers and knew it was a big game against the Haven.
“We knew that if we didn’t win that, then we had another chance coming along to make the quarter-final.
“It’s as we expected, I suppose, and it’s a big one. We’d love to take the next step and reach the quarter-finals.”
As recently as 2008, Éire Óg were a junior club. They won the county JAFC that year, with the intermediate following in 2014, during O’Reilly’s first spell in charge. After a brief hiatus – coincidentally with Newcestown – O’Reilly was back to lead Éire Óg to PIFC victory in 2019 and, while the reformatting of the county championships meant that they had to wait to make it to the top tier, that happened with the senior A title.
O’Reilly hasn’t been surprised at the vertiginous rise, praising the input of coach Paudie Kissane.
“We knew it was in them,” he says. “They’ve been coming the last two to three years. Under Paudie Kissane’s coaching as well, they’ve improved no end, really.
“They’re great lads to train and lockdown was good to us. Our lads just dedicated themselves to training on their own and everything like that and came back in great condition, like new players, really.
“They have plenty of ability and we’ve been on an upward curve the last number of years. I think we showed the last day against Castlehaven that we’re capable of competing with any team at this grade.
“A big thing for us was bringing in Paudie. I would have felt over the years that we had plenty of ability but we mightn’t have been as fit as we could have been.
“Paudie has changed all of that and changed the mentality of the players, really.
The fact that Éire Óg spent the early part of this year preparing for two county finals – they also won the IAHC decider against Aghabullogue – helped them to kick on when the 2021 campaign began and, though the team is relatively young, there is a lot of experience there.
“They’ve played in a lot of big games over the last number of years,” O’Reilly says, “finals and semi-finals and everything else.
“A lot of them have played for Cork at different levels as well. While we’re a young team with an average age around 23, 24 – Daniel Goulding and Dermot O’Herlihy, the two lads who were there in 2008, they bring up the age profile a little bit! – they have a lot of experience in the bank.
“They’re good players, which is most important of all!”
However, he knows that the opposition they will face are a tough nut to crack, too.
“Newcestown have been in semi-finals and quarter-finals in the senior championship for the last number of years,” he says. “They’re a fantastic club to keep going at senior in both codes, a lot of serious players too and never easily beaten. They made a great comeback to get the draw they needed in the hurling at the weekend.
“We’d have a lot of admiration for them, we’ve played them a few times in the last couple of years – I think they won by a point, we won by a point and there was a draw thrown in.
“There wouldn’t be much between the teams so it’ll be all on the day, a bit of luck thrown in for the victors!”