While the club part of the GAA’s split season is only just about to get going, Freemount are already on the verge of competing in their second county final of 2022.
The Duhallow club take on Randal Óg in today’s Co-op SuperStores Cork JBHC final in Páirc Uí Rinn (3pm), just a week after clashing with Ballyphehane in the Bons Secours Hospital JCFC decider in Mallow.
Unfortunately for them, they were beaten by the city side, but there is at least a chance to conjure a response to that disappointment. At the same time, in a club where most players line out in both codes, combining them can be challenging.
“We lost the junior C final last Saturday to Ballyphehane,” says selector John O’Flynn, “and most of the guys on the hurling panel would have been involved.
“From a hurling viewpoint, our preparations have been difficult because we’re really only hurling training every second week, which obviously isn’t ideal.”
It’s the second time in three seasons that Freemount have reached this particular final, though due to the impact of Covid-19, their 2020 final defeat to Araglen wasn’t played until August of last year.
This time around, they have made the most of their opportunities.
“To get to the final, we’ve only had to play two games,” O’Flynn says, “and there were probably a few surprises on our side of the draw.
“We were meant to play Bantry Blues but they pulled out and we got a walkover.
“Our first match was a win over Rathpeacon in the quarter-final, and they had had a surprising win over Doneraile and then O’Donovan Rossa would have been fancied to beat Gabriel Rangers but Gabriels surprised them and then we beat Gabriels in the semi-final.
“We’ve been lucky though that we’ve had the Duhallow Junior A Hurling League, that gave us a good few games up to the start of May.
“It would be a great boost to us to get over the line. We’ve suffered a lot of disappointment in county finals, so hopefully our time will come.”
Freemount operated at junior A level for a long time, winning the Duhallow championship on six occasions, the most recent in 2005 – in 1998, they made it to the county final but lost out to a Bride Rovers side that went on to reach senior level.
As with many small rural clubs, the squad encompasses a wide age range. In addition, O’Flynn points out the necessity of having to amalgamate in the underage grades.
“Four of five of the panel would be over 30,” he says.
“A few guys who were involved in last year’s panel stepped away at the start of this year, having put in great service over the years. The age-profile is probably a bit younger this year and than it was last year.
“We’re amalgamated with Meelin underage, that team is known as St Mark’s. We’re with Rockchapel in football, St Peter’s.
“Even with that, it’s still a struggle for numbers so we’re often competing in the lower grades.
“It varies from year to year – some years we have been in Division 2 and there are some of the younger grades now where they’re competing in Division 1, but that’s very much the exception rather than the norm. Normally, we’re quite tight on numbers, but the amalgamations have been good to us.
“Freemount won divisional junior A titles around two decades ago and the Meelin team that won the All-Ireland would have had a lot of guys who played for St Mark’s.
“Those teams were able to play at a higher grade and it was very beneficial. It’s been more of a challenge in later years because of the shorter numbers.”
Last year, Mossie Barrett coached the team but, after he departed, they moved to secure the services Dermot O’Riordan. He is also a selector along with Micheál Walsh and O’Flynn, who is full of praise for the Mallow native.
“We’re lucky to have Dermot on board,” he says.
“He brings huge experience, he has been involved with a number of clubs over the years.
“He started with us at the start of this year and he’s an excellent hurling coach.
“Certainly, I think our lads have benefited from that.”