NORTH Kerry native Dan O'Connor is the new face in the chairman's seat at Fr O'Neills GAA Club, as former joint-managers Dave Colbert and Bryan Sweeney return to the hurling fold.
O'Connor takes over at a club with a vastly growing membership, a superb new pitch development and a team that are chasing the Holy Grail of reaching the top-flight of senior hurling.
It's a far cry from when the Ballyduff native first arrived in East Cork in the mid-1990s, at which time he had finished his hurling involvement in the kingdom. Fr O'Neill's were then languishing very much as one the also-rans of Imokilly hurling, a Mayo-like curse seemed to have beset the club, before they eventually were crowned junior champions in 1996. The club has scarcely looked over its shoulder since and as they grew so too did the initial involvement of the man who is now chair.
"I suppose when my two sons Sean and Ciarr became involved in the club as juvenile players, it was a bit of a national progression," recalls Dan, who instantly felt at home once he landed in the parish of Ladysbridge and Ballymacoda.
"Like most people coming into a new area, my first sporting contact came from being standing on the sideline watching my children play. I became involved as a mentor and then as club officer before later following a path to the adult club. It's been a progression as I was juvenile chairman in the past and have been vice-chair of the adult club for the past six years. At this stage, I felt it was my turn to step up.
"We have a lot of people working very hard at the moment with a very strong adult and juvenile committee. We are lucky that we also have a really great bunch of players at the moment, a group that have been very successful at schools, juvenile and adult level. Obviously, there was a lot of disappointment after the defeat last season to Kanturk in the final.
"I am very mindful that in Cork it is very hard to win a county title at any level. We will just roll on again in 2022 and do whatever we can to try to win it."
For the new season, there will be a familiar look on the sideline as former joint managers Bryan Sweeney and Dave Colbert return to the fold. The duo led O'Neill's to a number of significant triumphs during their previous tenure in charge. Their backroom team will feature trainer Niall O'Halloran along with Billy Murphy and Bob Murphy.
Club PRO Seamus Joyce has been appointed Junior A manager.
Meantime, the club's new playing surface continues to mature during the off-season. An ambitious plan was undertaken and the seeds of some great work under former chairman Michael Hegarty are literally showing green shoots over the last few months.
"Michael was in charge of the Field Committee also and oversaw that development," commented O'Connor.
"Everything fell right for us in the past few months - depending on the future weather conditions and the expert advice we receive from the contractors, our hope is that we will be ready to roll come summertime. In all honesty, we are delighted with the rate of progress over the past 12 months. The new pitch will be fenced in and have floodlights and will become our main pitch."
So what's the next step in terms of financing this project?
"Hopefully we will be having our own special fundraising draw during the year and will be looking for support. At the moment though our focus is on the Rebels' Bounty Draw and we are hoping to build on that over the next few weeks. It's a great initiative if targets are met. Our lotto draw is also very important."
Now 25 years on from his first association with Fr O'Neill's, Dan O'Connor is eagerly looking forward to driving the club further forward.
"It was lucky 13 for the club in 1996, after the 12 previous final defeats. The win was the catalyst for all the good things that have happened since then.
"Looking ahead, I think it's quite clear that the vision for the club is to make it to the very top tier and see how far we can go from there. The pitch development is obviously the other key priority, so my path is very clear.
All I can do is to work as hard as I can to make these things happen."