Cloughduv coach Tim Barry- Murphy is battling a head cold. Not that he’s complaining, of course. It’s a very small price to pay for the opportunity to be still calling drills and placing out cones in late November.
To be chasing silverware at this time of year is rather unfamiliar territory for Cloughduv, as is preparing to try and move within one hour of an All-Ireland final appearance at Croke Park. Indeed, there are many green and gold followers still coming to terms with the fact that the club’s collective focus no longer centres on shedding their junior status.
For 18 long years escaping the junior ranks consumed this mid-Cork parish.
At the Cloughduv AGM in late 2001, a discussion took about their intermediate hurlers. They hadn’t been going well for a number of years and with a number of players headed for retirement, some of whom had hurled senior in the late eighties, there was a fear the team’s fortunes would fall into even greater decline.
It was proposed the club regrade to junior, with the subsequent vote incredibly tight.
The end ballot was that Cloughduv would drop to junior in 2002.
“Like every team that goes down, you’d be giving yourself four or five years to get back up,” recalls Derry Keane, who these days double-jobs as a junior selector and club chairman.
“In the end, it took us 16 years.”
For so long there looked like there’d be no end, no return from where they came from.
Mid-Cork success in 2002, ‘06, ‘09, ‘10, ‘11, ‘14, ‘15 and ‘17 was not matched by further silverware when they were pitted against fellow divisional champions.
They went as far as to enlist the services of Jimmy Barry-Murphy for a couple of campaigns. They reached two county finals, 2009 and ‘10, under his watch. Both ended in defeat.
Worse followed in 2015, with Cloughduv five up on Dungourney with four minutes remaining in the county final. Their opponents struck for 1-2 and took the replay at a canter.
“To go down junior was a very big decision for the club to make. Two years after, the Cork county board split the intermediate grade in two and introduced the premier intermediate grade. We would have been fine in the lower intermediate grade, which had become the third tier in Cork hurling,” reckons Tim Barry- Murphy.
“Hindsight is great, of course, but if we knew what was coming down the road in terms of restructuring, we would have never regraded. It was something that was biting at us for a number of years. You’d be saying what a bad decision it was to come down.”
The tag of junior hurlers became a chain around their necks.
“There was pressure on the lads in that winning Mid-Cork wasn’t enough, you were expected to go on and win the county,” Keane explains.
“There is no doubt about it that when we won it this year, relief was probably the biggest emotion. To just have finally won it and to get back up. We are glad to have the monkey off the back and be back up intermediate.”
Both men are thankful to see the book closed on that particular chapter for the club.
“All those defeats going back the years to 2002 are dead and buried now,” Barry- Murphy declares.
“A win on Sunday would cap off what has been a glorious year for the club.”
A glorious year, indeed.
Their average winning margin across the eight games it took them to win a first Cork junior championship since 1970 stands at an impressive 15 points. Five of the starting team is U21 and from that younger crop, Eoghan Clifford, Brian Verling and 18-year old Aodh Twomey have been key figures in a journey which now sees them within touching distance of Munster glory.
For Brian Ahern, there is the opportunity to nab a second Munster medal, having been part of the Canovee football side which claimed provincial junior honours back in 2007.
“The pressure is off now. The lads can go out, as we saw in the semi-final above in Boherlahan, and hurl with a bit more freedom because we have won the county,” Keane continues.
“We’re just hopeful with the young lads coming through that this can be another successful period for the club.”