Castlehaven still managing to bring it all back home in defiance of the odds
Shane Nolan was the team mascot in 1994 – his father Jim was a Castlehaven “lifer”. Last year, Nolan transferred from Valley Rovers back to his childhood club in Castlehaven, joining the numbers who fled the bright lights of Cork city for the twice-weekly training ritual. And Nolan wasn’t a guaranteed starter either.
He came on as a substitute in the county final against Duhallow when Castlehaven trailed by two points with time ebbing. Castlehaven had lost the previous year’s final and another black end to the Cork championship looked inevitable. Then, a hopeful punt for a point, the ball dropping short and Nolan coming from nowhere to get his fist to the ball: it was the winning goal.
And it was also irrefutable proof that this experiment of localised repatriation was worth it.
Somehow, Castlehaven find enough players to keep putting out decent teams. McCarthy has coached at all levels over the years and instances an occasion when they took Nemo, the perennial Cork giants, to a replay in a quarter final. They lost the match and afterwards a few players retired.
“But then we won two county under-21 titles. And we still have five or six players from the Castlehaven team that won the county championship in 2003. To win two county medals over a nine-year span is a fair thing for a country team.”
It’s a constant struggle against the natural patterns and rhythms of a small community. West Cork is known for its bewitching natural beauty but unless a young man has a mind to make it as a landscape artist, work options can be thin on the ground. Emigration would be a threat for the club except for one thing.
“Several lads have put their lives on hold for football,” McCarthy says. “It is that simple. But they can’t keep doing that forever. We will lose some. That’s inevitable.”
So tomorrow, they will make the best of the day. The bookmakers rank them as 3 to 1 outsiders in their quest to stop the juggernaut that Dr Crokes has become.
The football man in McCarthy is keenly aware that the general consensus is that this year’s club championship is gradually being distilled to what would be a monumental clash between the Killarney men and the extraordinary Crossmaglen team.
Castlehaven, though, have built their tradition upon consistent defiance of the odds.
Sometimes people ask McCarthy what he is going to do about the Gooch. But Colm Cooper, for all his brilliance, is just one of many problems that Dr Crokes pose.
“There are five other really strong players in that forward line alone. We know we are playing one of the top two teams in Ireland and what we have to do. It is every man for himself.”
Except that in Castlehaven, it is anything but.