WHILE Éire Óg are preparing for their third consecutive season in the top flight of Cork football, it wasn’t that long ago when just getting out of the junior grade looked a long shot.
The Ovens club traditionally known as a hurling club, won the Cork SHC in 1928 and runners up in 1931, entered the Muskerry JAFC in 2008 as one of the fancied sides in the competition with a young and exciting side.
The big ball had become prominent in the club in the late '90s, when underage football emerged as a force and significantly in 1998, the U14 footballers won the Cork Féile na nGael competition beating a fancied Carrigaline side in the final.
The team would compete in the national Féile competition where they reached the semi-final, losing to Kildare’s Moorefield.
That was the start of football gaining traction. Many of the U14 players went on to play a part in the clubs first minor A football county title in 2002 beating Carrigaline in the decider in Brinny.
In 2006, the minor team added a second county crown beating Mitchelstown by a point played in monsoon weather conditions in Rathcormac.
While the underage was thriving, the junior team were struggling, failing to make inroads in the championship for many years.
There were green shoots in 2007, when Éire Óg reached the semi-final of the Muskerry championship. Canovee were the opposition on that particular day in Kilmurry, with the Carrigadrohid side one of the fancied teams in the championship.
Éire Óg, with a mix of experience and youth were underdogs going into the game, but in a tit-for-tat game, there was very little between them going into injury time. With Canovee leading by a point, Éire Óg went for the jugular and an excellent goal chance went begging and Canovee survived.
The team in black and yellow would not just go on and win the Muskerry championship, but won the county title, Munster crown and made it all the way to Jones Road.
Canovee made no mistake and lifted the All-Ireland trophy. It was a case of what if for Éire Óg, they had come so close to beating Canovee, which would have been huge.
When the stinging pain of defeat had ebbed, they took solace from the knowledge that they weren’t too far away.
The team in red and yellow were under new management in 2008, Westmeath native Tom Scally was the new manager, with John O’Shea from Kerry the coach.
Macroom’s second string were first up for Éire Óg in the opening round of the championship. The Ovens team prevailed by a point in an unconvincing victory, in a game where Macroom missed a couple of great goal chances late on to win the game.
Inniscarra were next up in round three, the concession of three goals looked to have proved costly for Éire Óg, with Scarra leading by a point going into injury-time, until Daniel Goulding levelled the game.
Éire Óg improved in the replay on the way to a comfortable win, which set up a meeting with Kilmichael in the quarter-final. Éire Óg came through a tough encounter before playing Ballincollig’s second team at a packed Cloughduv.
The team in red and yellow held their nerve in a narrow win in the last four. Dripsey were the opposition in the decider, and despite a late rally from Dripsey, Éire Óg held on for a three-point win to spark wild celebrations.
Éire Óg weren’t just content with the divisional title, and wins over Bandon and Cloyne set up a county final against Ballygarvan.
The Mid-Cork team led 1-7 to 0-2 during the third quarter, but failed to score for the remainder of the half and were hanging on grimly at the final whistle, as the Ovens team won 1-8 to 1-5 to secure promotion to the inter grade.
Éire Óg fans came flooding onto the pitch after the game to celebrate with their heroes.
All the hard work at underage level had paid off. Éire Óg fell at the first hurdle in the Munster championship against Cappawhite in a shock result in Cashel, but that wasn’t going to take away from what was an unforgettable season.
Éire Óg have continued their rise, winning the IFC in 2014, PIFC in 2019 and SAFC in 2020 (wasn’t played until June 2021 due to Covid-19).
From junior in 2008 to the top flight in 2021, it has been some journey and with another batch of young exciting players, you wouldn’t put it past Éire Óg making more history in the years ahead.