On their way home to Cork from Dublin a year ago the Mourneabbey players and staff stopped off at the Poitín Stil for a drink. There were plenty of sorrows in need of drowning too, the team having just lost their third All-Ireland club final in four years.
Manager Shane Ronayne never doubted his players' resolve; since he had taken over as the club's manager in 2013 they'd demonstrated it often enough. But even he began wondering how much disappointment they could take before calling it a day and getting on with the rest of their lives.
But then two of the team’s intercounty stars, sisters Ciara and Doireann O’Sullivan, came up to him in the pub. “They said, ‘Shane, whatever you’re thinking about doing now, you’re not to do it – we want you back.’ And their honesty about the game was incredible. They said, ‘we lost it out there today, ye didn’t lose it for us.’ That honesty just said to me, ‘right, we’ll have another cut off this.’”
Even by then, though, he had decided he couldn’t walk away, even if that had been in his thoughts before the final, which they lost to Carnacon.
“I had nearly made up my mind that I was going, regardless of the result. I was just very busy with different things that I felt I should give time to. But straight after the final whistle I just said, ‘God, I can’t leave this go.’ Then when we had the chat in the Poitín Stil I saw how driven they were to go again. Myself and the management team wanted to take a bigger break after the championship, but the players were tormenting us to go back, that’s the way they are. They’re that driven to succeed with Mourneabbey.”
Wealth of honours
Captain Eimear Meaney is just 21, but already she has amassed a wealth of honours with Cork, UCC and her club, county and Munster champions for the last five years, but little would mean more than beating Foxrock-Cabinteely at Parnell Park on Saturday to win Mourneabbey's first senior All-Ireland title.
“I don’t think there are words to describe exactly what it would mean. I’ve been lucky that I’ve played in a lot of teams that have been successful, even with my school, but I don’t think I’ve ever wanted something as bad. I think I can say that collectively for the team. We have players who have eight, nine All-Irelands with Cork, but I couldn’t tell you how much they, and every player on that panel, want to win on Saturday.”
If we could win on Saturday, I think Mourneabbey will never see anything like it. It's the Holy Grail
“It’s that hunger that’s been built from all that disappointment. Every one of our three defeats was hard to take, but last year was probably the hardest of them all. It was devastating, we were all heartbroken. But you have to bottle that hurt and use it. I’ll definitely be thinking of that on Saturday when I feel my legs can’t go any longer. I don’t want to be coming off that pitch feeling the same.”
Ronayne, who is also the current Tipperary manager, leading them to All-Ireland Intermediate success last year, coached at Foxrock-Cabinteely back in 2005 when the club was in its infancy and he was a young teacher in Dublin.
"It was a hugely enjoyable experience. Amy Ring [Foxrock-Cabinteely's captain this season] was 16, Sinead Goldrick [the Dublin player who collected her sixth All Star at the weekend] was 15, there was so much young talent there and the club has gone from strength to strength. But I'd be a bit of a homebird and I couldn't wait to get back down south again. And I've loved my time with Mourneabbey. It's a great community down there, and the team means so much to them, they have brought a lot of joy to the people."
“It’s a 35, 40-minute trip for me out there and the road isn’t very good, but the journey every night feels short because of the bond that has been built up. Whenever I do go – this year, another year, in 10 years’ time – it’ll be a huge part of my life gone. I’ve made lifelong friends in Mourneabbey, that’s why I keep going back. If we could win on Saturday, I think Mourneabbey will never see anything like it. It’s the Holy Grail. Nobody has a God-given right to win anything and we know that better than anybody. But there’s a monkey on their back, they want this so badly, and that’s where the drive comes from.”
They’ll be hoping it’s champagne in the Poitín Stil this time around.