AS recently as 2005, Fr O’Neills operated in the junior A grade.
While they followed that year’s county title with an IHC win in 2007, their initial stay in premier intermediate was short and it took until 2016 to get back there. Then, their PIHC win in 2019 coincided with a restructuring of the grades and so they were still in the second tier, albeit a tighter senior A level.
Finalists there at the first attempt, they lost to Charleville and then last year came up short in the decider against Kanturk. On Sunday, it was third time lucky as they saw off Courcey Rovers and 2023 will see the Ballymacoda/Ladysbridge outfit line up on the gride for premier senior.
For joint-manager Bryan Sweeney, it’s a proud moment but he’s keen that nobody in the club sees this as the end of the journey.
“Definitely,” he said, “we’re up there with an elite bunch and we don’t take it for granted, when you consider who isn’t there.
“We know that we have to enjoy this year but we have to look on to next year as well. We want to move on, nobody wants to say that this is the end of this.
“We’ve won senior A and now we want to go on and show that we’re worthy of our place at premier senior.”
Sweeney and his fellow joint-manager Dave Colbert returned this year after taking a season out, with Ballinhassig native Niall O’Halloran coming on board as coach after enjoying county championship success with Bandon and Éire Óg in the past. It all added up to a winning combination.
“Myself and Dave are hugely proud to be associated with this team,” Sweeney says.
“Having a break last year, while at times it was tough it was good to freshen things up. Having Billy and Bob Murphy, the two brothers, they add so much – Billy with the strength and conditioning and Bob on the goalkeeping side of things.
“We can’t underestimate what Niall O’Halloran has put into this club. He brought a freshness of ideas but also a really consistent approach, not afraid to lay down a marker that this is how we play.
“We suited him and he suited us – it doesn’t always happen but when it does you really have to take advantage of it.
“I can’t say enough good things about Niall. He’s a phenomenal coach and he’s put huge time and effort into in what has been a tough year for him. At no stage did that affect him, he always came down to the field with a huge energy, a huge passion, a huge focus.
“That’s him as a coach but we also see him as a man. He contributed a load on the field but also to our players as people off the field.”