Final piece of the jigsaw tantalisingly close as Ballincollig bid for glory
One of Cork’s oldest clubs face Carbery Rangers in first senior football final
John Miskella: former Cork All-Ireland winner and All Star has helped guide his club to their first Cork senior football final. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho
In Ballincollig this week, the place is silly with banners and posters and windows and walls all carrying the same slogan: Up The Village. Yet this is no village, at least not to the naked eye.
The last census pitched the population at just shy of 18,000, the next one will likely find it edging up to up to the thick end of 20,000. McDonald’s, Tesco and Boots are all down to open new stores this side of Christmas.
Tomorrow, they load up the convoy and head for Páirc Uí Chaoimh to make their first ever appearance in a Cork senior football final. The club has existed in some shape or form since the very birth of the GAA in the county – one of the original 21 clubs affiliated to the Cork County Board came from Ballincollig. Yet it’s taken all this time for them to arise and take their place among the nations.
In there somewhere, there’s the makings of an explanation. The nickname might be ‘The Village’ but it’s always been a town club. Every county has them. Plenty of numbers, multiple teams at underage, dominant all the way up along. And then, at a certain age, in a certain way, the whole thing falls off a cliff.
“When you compare it to a small village with a village mentality, it can be more manageable than in a town where you have a lot of competing sports, a lot of teams and so forth. You’re looking to get that village mentality in a bigger town but it’s not always easy.
“We’ve had good underage teams and good underage players but they’ve really not materialised into adulthood for whatever reason. People have gone away, people have gone travelling, they’ve gone off to college elsewhere, it’s hard to get them to hang around.”
Trawl back the years and the club history is hurling-heavy. They reached three county finals in a row with the small ball at the start of the 1940s, albeit that they came away beaten each time.
They were the team that brought an end to Ring’s Glen Rovers team that looked to be on its way to a 10-in-a-row yet they still didn’t manage to clear the final hurdle themselves.
Victory tomorrow will bring a first senior title of either hue out the Model Farm Road, which, for a club its size, tells a story of decades of underachievement.
They last won an intermediate hurling title in 1999, a victory that gave way to a few seasons of bad beatings at senior level before they were sent back into the pack. The last Ballincollig player to hurl for Cork at any level was Eoin O’Sullivan, corner-back on the 2005 minor team that won a Munster title.
On the football side of things, however, they’ve fared better. Podsie O’Mahony was the brightest light on the side that broke through in 1994, finally winning the Cork intermediate title after losing three finals in the five preceding years.
John Miskella was a mainstay on the county side throughout the noughties and finished up his intercounty career with an All-Ireland, an All Star and two International Rules caps to his name. Pa Kelly is well on his way to matching him.
Between them, Miskella and Kelly have guided the club to a place beyond where any Ballincollig side has gone before.
At 36, Miskella is playing the perfect old-lag role, roving out from corner-forward, managing the game on the pitch.
Kelly has come back from an unhappy summer with Cork in flying form, scoring two goals in the first 20 minutes of their second round game in a non-too subtle riposte to the Cork management who’d used him so sparingly through the championship.
Decent bountyNoel Galvin
They have a handful of players from the side that lost this year’s county under-21 final to Nemo and another smattering from the team that won a premier minor title in 2011. The age profile is right, maybe the time is right.
“Everybody’s fit and healthy,” says O’Brien. “We have a full panel to pick from. A big thing for us this year is that everybody has stayed around. Last year, a number of guys went to the States in the summer. But this year when we met first in December, we just asked everybody to give everything for this year.
“And everyone stayed – so that’s been a huge bonus for us. Even just for training purposes, it’s a massive thing. Because the problem is, it’s always your good players that go to America. That’s just how it works. So when they’re away and you have players on county panels unavailable, you can struggle to get it going. When everybody stayed and everybody rowed in together, that was a great boost. It’s been a big part of it.”
Along the way, they ticked off milestones as they met them. They’d never beaten St Finbarr’s in the championship before they met them on the May bank holiday weekend in Páirc Uí Rinn. After scoring just a solitary point in the first half, there were few enough takers for the notion that this might be the time. But with Miskella a step ahead of everyone else on the pitch in his head, they overcame a five-point deficit in the closing 20 minutes to chisel out a 1-9 to 1-8 win.
“That was huge,” says O’Brien. “It really started our season. In years gone by, we could easily have lost that game. We looked dead and buried but we really rose up and showed huge character and it really propelled us into the rest of the season.”
“Over the last 10 years anyway, we underachieved. We got to one semi-final and that was it really. We just didn’t fulfil our potential over that time. We used to get ahead of ourselves, maybe talk about making a county final from the start of the year. This time, we were so focused on that one game in the first round and we took it from there.
“It’s great to be in it. The village is covered in green and white everywhere you look. There’s flags everywhere, all the shops are done up, the Tidy Towns people, the business association – everybody has got behind it. But now it’s about winning at all costs. It’s all for nothing if we don’t go out and deliver in the final.”
One last step.