AFTER five massive Sundays, I am experiencing a bit of a downer. The county final odyssey is over for 2012 and while some may argue about the quality most certainly what is not in question is the real drama that played out in front of us. Coming down the home straight in practically all of the contests the issue was still in doubt and after that… what more do you want?
With the exception of the two drawn junior finals, the aftermath of the others took on more or less a similar pattern for those of us watching from the sofas in the press area. The winning captain, on receiving the coveted trophy, looked out on the assembled masses before addressing them, and if you looked out beyond you could spot the defeated ones.
Out of tradition, out of respect, they stand there like men returning from war in possession of the white flag. The difference between them and the guys on the podium is possibly no more than a point or two, but if hell is any worse we better start mending our ways. They listen to the stories of sacrifice, of dedication, of running the January roads or the costal sand dunes, the commitment, the words of gratitude for wives, girlfriends and to be all inclusive, partners, who are now part of the new GAA family.
The team management and the sponsors are also included of the winning speech and on it goes until the torturous release chant. Now three cheers for… At least now they can get inside to the worst room in the building, the losers’ dressing room. Have you ever been to one? If you haven’t, ring the crowd in Kildorrery.
After the junior football final in 2007 they lined up and listened to a victorious Canovee captain. Earlier on in that match Mike Monaghan wrecked his knee cap, they carted him off, with medical personnel having to give him oxygen such was the pain. He’ll never play again, that’s what the expert said. Mike had different ideas. Rehab consisted of all the usual, including on many occasions raising at four or five in the morning to do a 20 mile cycle or run, or in some cases both.
He returned and played for a further two years. Having done his bit for Kildorrery he retired. Last Sunday, as a supporter, it was as good as it gets. They were back in 2008 in another final. That time Valley Rovers got to say all the nice things. Again, the Kildorrery players stood and listened.
Two years ago, they made another final journey this time Macroom stood between them and their dream. Three minutes from the end and trailing by two they won a penalty. Andrew O’Brien, who was awesome on that day was detailed to bury it, but it didn’t go in. Again they lined up and listened. By the way this column was in the sofa for all these defeats, and I’ll be honest I just wished that someday it would be different.
Earlier this summer I had the opportunity to visit as part of their fundraising festival and on leaving I was convinced more than ever of their total commitment to the wonderful cause that is Kildorrery GAA club. What a community, but if they could only win one. A few weeks later it was another county final this time the U21 B football. Same story though. When the last whistle sounded they lined up again and listened to a young Iveleary captain. It surely couldn’t go on! Just two weeks ago, they left the hill on another county final day without the trophy, would they ever get the hint?
Twenty nine minutes of the second half had passed and they trailed by two, with another painful line up as the defeated team looming. Peter O’Brien (he’s Andrew’s brother) won possession on the left and headed off, it was a goal or nothing. But what a goal. Cormac Ó Baoill put them ahead but then John Horgan struck the equaliser.
At 3.15pm on Sunday last we again took our seats. Early on Brian Dillon’s were hurling well but for the first airing of green it was the gentlemen that live two minutes from the Limerick border that got it. Finbarr Stapleton layed the ball off to Eamon O’Connor, who didn’t need an instruction manual. Five minutes to the short whistle Thomas Lawrence (who had some match) struck a point for Brian Dillon’s to level. Kildorrery then pointed three, the last one a huge free from Ruby Walsh’s second cousin, Mikey. What a man. Into the dressing room they went.
I know a certain Tom Monaghan addressed his fellow players. Here’s an indication of what Kildorrery means to these guys. Twice a week Tom and his two travelling companions, Eamon O’Connor and team captain Richie McEnery, met in the capital and made the 135 mile trip down to ‘hill’ for training and when it was all over, they went back up again. As for Tom’s few words… He mentioned the uniqueness of Kildorrery but he finished up by informing them that “they were not going up to the hill tonight as losers, they were going up as county champions”.
You would have to say that with their record over the past six years, it was some statement. Out the door and it was their choice as to the status of the room when they would return to. In the latter stages Tom Monaghan went down and, similar to his brother Mike five years previously, he wasn’t for rising. Team selector Tony McCarthy surveyed the situation and despite his lack of attendance at medical school he realised that Tom had played his last in this battle, but maybe now, he made his most telling contribution.
During the five-minute delay Tony went around to as many of his players as possible and left one sentence ringing its way to the decision making part of the brain: ‘Remember what Tom said.’ Within two minutes of the restart Brian Dillon’s went three ahead and with two minutes of the seven allocated for injury time played it looked like it was going to be their day. These Dillon’s boys had given it everything.
Was it time for the Kildorrery folk to prepare for the losers’ assembly line for the fifth time in six years? O’Brien once again took possession, made the run and somehow got it to Dave Kelly who drove across the goal and Finbarr Stapleton levelled. It stayed that way for a while and then that most unassuming man Peter O’Brien (Andrew is now in Australia and was possibly listening in) drove over a mighty point and then another.
Undoubtedly they had remembered what Tom said. Yes John Horgan got one back before the Kildorrery eardrums and auditory nerves experienced the sound that many thought was meant for others. A final whistle and their team leading. At last they climbed on to the victory podium, but who would sing ‘Famous Kildorrery Town’. It is their anthem. Somewhere along the way Tom Monaghan and full-back Shane Fitzgerald made a pact that they would do a duet.
Tom, with a broken tibia and a broken fibula wasn’t around so Shane took the mic. Some cheered, some cried. At last they had moved to the higher plane. On the podium stood history makers, the ones that banished the stories of losing county finals from the memory vaults and probably as significant, the ones that won the first adult county hurling title for that special place, Kildorrery, in North Cork.
Editor, I do hope you don’t mind the tribute to Kildorrery. Someday, it would be my pleasure to write a similar column about Brian Dillon’s but for now it’s all about the men from the hill. A new verse may have to be added to the anthem. Can you imagine what it would sound like if it was sung from the Hogan stand? Anything is possible now.