FR O'Neill's shared a great night of celebration to mark their hurling and camogie counties in recent years.
The camogie team had been first on the podium as they were crowned intermediate champions in 2021 with the hurlers following on the victory trail, securing the Senior A title in 2022.
The pandemic had halted initial camogie club plans for a medal presentation function, so the coming together early in 2023 was well overdue for a team that made the step up to senior last term. A huge crowd gathered at Garryvoe Hotel, with a number of invited special guests from both GAA and camogie circles joining players, family members and a large group of dedicated club supporters.
Former GAA President Sean Kelly made the journey to East Cork to share in the special night. He had become associated with Fr O'Neill's following their All-Ireland junior club title win in 2006. The Kerry native is widely credited for opening Croke Park up to clubs at all levels, having pioneered the model for All Ireland junior and intermediate hurling and football competition.
On this occasion, he also visited the superb new pitch which was opened in 2022. It is another significant step forward for the Ballymacoda-Ladysbridge outfit, who plan to add dressing rooms in the not-too-distant future.
These two faced one another on a number of occasions a little lower on the ladder, most recently when the Avondhu club stormed back to defeat Fr O'Neill's by 1-23 to 4-13 in the final of the Senior A grade in 2020.
It will be remembered as the day of a very big wind that made it two very different halves. The East Cork side led by 1-11 to 0-5 at the interval but had to face a howling gale in the second 30 minutes. Darragh Fitzgibbon with 1-8 and Danny O'Flynn with 0-6 were top scorers for the winners, while Declan Dalton posted 1-7 for O'Neill's. The feeling leaving headquarters that day was that these two sides might collide again in the years ahead along the championship road and so it will come to pass in just over six months.
O'Neill's face another stiff challenge as they journey to Páirc Uí Rinn to meet a seasoned Douglas. It could be a defining weekend in the group as Charleville also make the relatively short trip to Mallow on the following day to engage Erin's Own. That leaves the final day fixtures pairing Fr O'Neill's and Erin's Own in an intriguing all Imokilly clash in Cloyne and Charleville returning to Mallow to meet Douglas.
At this stage, it would take a very brave pundit who would confidently call the two teams to progress.
Despite the absence of a few players who played key roles in the county final win, but are now on their travels abroad, expect Fr O'Neill's to be very competitive.
When the new millennium dawned and for a few years after, Fr O'Neill's were a junior club in East Cork; it truly has been a fairytale journey.
On the camogie front, Fr O'Neill's will be hoping to find their feet in the senior ranks after one victory over Ballygarvan in 2022. Ray O'Neill, Brian O'Donoghue, Carrie Higgins and Katie Ahern will form this year's management team.
Between the GAA's new pitch and the constant activity at the original facilities, there will be real spring in the step of all in red and green when pre-season training gets into full swing with all juvenile and adult teams.
This part of rural East Cork is certainly a hive of activity while recently Dungourney and Castlemarty held packed victory dinners.