Denis Hurley on the magic of reaching a county final, even if your club loses

Kilbrittain didn't win the Lower IHC final, but the supporting experience was still a special one
Denis Hurley on the magic of reaching a county final, even if your club loses

Lisgoold's Cathal Cashman blocks down a shot by Kilbrittain's Conor Ustianowski during the Co-Op Superstores LIHC final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

I WENT to a match on Saturday night.

Hardly earth-shattering news, obviously, given that the car could practically drive itself to Páirc Uí Chaoimh on a Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon at this time of year.

Saturday’s workload involved Castlemartyr’s superb performance in beating Sarsfields in the Co-op SuperStores Cork IAHC final, but prior to that there was a watching brief for the first game down the Marina.

While I now live in Innishannon parish and my last GAA outing, a decade ago, was representing Rochestown – persuaded out of retirement by the late, great Pat McAuliffe – my club is Kilbrittain, who were taking on Lisgoold in the lower intermediate decider.

Having won the county junior A title in 1984, Kilbrittain reached the intermediate final in 1988, losing to Youghal. I was too young to go to that game but I was there a year later when they made it back to that stage, up against the previous year’s junior champions, Valley Rovers.

My mother made a flag for the occasion, a yellow blanket combined with black corduroy, and it would be called upon many times over the following years, but it experienced a losing debut as Valleys made it two titles in as many years.

Kilbrittain were in the final again in 1993, Youghal again the opponents in a shiny new Páirc Uí Rinn – remember the glass panelling at the ends of the two main stands? – and the outcome was the same as it had been five years previously. The fall that fell towards the end of the game helped to disguise the tears.

Two years later, the club finally broke through the glass ceiling with a superb performance against Ballincollig in the final. While it would have nice if the stint at senior level was longer than four years, the important thing was that they made it there.

At that 1995 IHC final in the old Páirc, I wore a Kilkenny jersey from an All-Ireland minor final in the 1980s, a gift from a family friend who had known the Cork player with whom it was swapped. 

On Saturday night, the same jersey – the commemorative text having long peeled off and the felt crest starting to fray – was donned by my son, Johnny.

While he tells anyone who asks that he will play for ‘Valley Wov-ahs’, the presence of his uncle James at full-back for Kilbrittain means that he can share his supporting loyalties for now.

I was never a good enough hurler to even dream of a place on the Kilbrittain first team and so I live vicariously through James and am hugely proud of the career he has had, playing Dr Harty Cup for Hamilton HS and being a mainstay of the Kilbrittain side. On Saturday, the family was present to cheer him and the team on, though Johnny, his younger brother Aaron and cousin Maggie did intersperse their viewing with some late supper. Two other cousins, Amelia and Fiadh, were there in spirit.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be Kilbrittain’s night as Lisgoold were stronger and fully deserving of their victory – like Valley Rovers in 1988 and 1989, the East Cork side followed a junior county title with one at intermediate level. Even more impressively, their two victories came within the space of three months, having won the 2020 junior championship back in August.

Lisgoold's Cian Scannell keeps the ball in play from from Kilbrittain's Josh O'Donovan. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Lisgoold's Cian Scannell keeps the ball in play from from Kilbrittain's Josh O'Donovan. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

It was disappointing, certainly – Kilbrittain will feel that they didn’t play to their best – but for every winner there has to be a loser. When I used to complain about my lot as a child, my mother would gently but firmly inform me that there were children who would only love to have what I have. Similarly, there were ten teams in the lower intermediate grade who would have swapped their year for a place in the decider: better to have got to the final and lost than never to have got there at all.

That attitude was put forward by Kilbrittain manager Jamie Wall in the lead-up to the game.

“We’re trying to stay away from language like, ‘These days don’t come around too often,’” he said, “because I think that semi-finals and finals do come around if you’re putting in the work. It’s up to you to be putting yourself in the position, whether you’re in the grade above or the grade below.

“We’re going up there to enjoy another day out together and what comes at the end of a final – I wouldn’t say it’s in the lap of the gods but there are two very good teams in a final against each other, one of them is going to win and one of them is going to lose. The result is going to go a certain way and that’s the way sport is.”

Wall is only 29 but has already amassed a considerable coaching portfolio. No doubt he will look at Saturday and work on trying to learn from it, ready for another tilt in 2022.

That’s the game and the wheel keeps turning, but the support never wavers.

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