EARLY disruption due to injuries to out-half James Taylor and second-row Eoin Keating might have unsettled Highfield in their recent energia All-Ireland League Division 1B game against Naas at Woodleigh Park.
Head Coach Conor Quaid was unruffled though, summoning Sam Burns and young Ronan O’Sullivan from the bench and making a couple of adjustments to get the juggernaut back on track again.
A 38-3 victory, their third on the spin, keeps Field at the top of the table as the league takes a break this weekend.
Part of the switches involved Paddy O’Toole diverting from centre to 10 and Dave O’Connell from blind-side flanker to the second-row. It was seamless.
“I knew Paddy would step up and do the job because he’s been here a long while, like a lot of the players,” said Quaid.
“It was very satisfying and it’s a good start to the season, but nothing more. We’ll settle down take it handy this weekend before going again.”
The following afternoon Highfield’s juniors put 40 points on Cashel, no co-incidence there either because of the highly competitive atmosphere at the club.
“We’ve around 45 players training every Tuesday and Thursday and they’re all pushing for places.
“There’s a phenomenal togetherness, a real tightness within the squad and we know if anyone has to step out the guy coming in is just as good and hungry.
“It’s the culture that was built up by Timmy Ryan and the lads over the years, so we’re just trying to add to that, as well.”
Cue Timmy! He now lives in Wales and is coaching in Neath, but will be forever remembered by pulling Highfield up the ladder.
Ryan spent six memorable seasons as coach, winning promotion three times and denied a fourth due to Covid last March 12 months.
He started with a 28-27 win over Bective Rangers in Division 2B in 2014 and Ryan’s final game was the 17-12 victory over Old Belvedere in 1B at the end of February in 2020.
In all, Ryan oversaw 103 games in the All-Ireland league with an amazing record of 80 wins, 19 defeats, including a couple of promotion play-off losses at home, and four draws.
Statistics apart, it was his attractive style of football that left its legacy, a ball-in-hand approach regardless of field position which thrilled supporters most of the time, but had hearts-in-mouths on occasions, too.
Ryan’s opening season set the standard, winning 13 of their 15 games, collecting 13 bonus points and amassing 522 points.
In a restructured second year of more games, 18, Highfield again earned promotion and while play-offs proved something of a jinx, they were back on the trail again in 2018-19, winning the 2A title.
And Field blew everyone away en route to the title, winning 15, losing three and bagging 17 bonus points to be 10 clear of second-placed Cashel at the finish.
That scintillating form continued into 1B the following season, the Cork club eight points in front with only four games left until Covid struck.
Despite winning 12 of their 14 games and seemingly on course for the big jump to the top flight, Highfield were cruelly denied.
This is Quaid’s first AIL season, a family name synonymous with the club.
“All we’re trying to do is facilitate it and standards haven’t dropped. We’re just hoping to keep on improving, getting better and better.
“It’s still very early yet. We’ve two on the road, to Belfast next week, but we’ll take it game-by-game and see how we go.”
Highfield’s style won’t change much, if at all. Sure if it’s not broken, why look for a hammer?
“I came into the set-up here which had a very strong set of forwards and I’d like to think we can play an all-round game. We have some quality backs and we shouldn’t be afraid to use them either, which we are not, but we will never forget our identity either.
“We like to go at teams up front,” Quaid concluded.