Doonbeg boss Kieran O’Neill is on the cusp of history – he’s already won senior hurling and football medals on the field and led Kilmaley to a hurling title off the field as he gears up for the final piece of the jigsaw, writes Joe Ó Muircheartaigh.
‘Nail’ driven to succeed with Magpies
WHEN Tomás Ó Sé hung up his Kerry boots after a career that straddled three decades, the last line of the inter-county epitaph he penned for The Irish Examiner summed up the character that helped him become the one of the greatest ever to bestride the game.
“I went as hard as I could for as long as I could.”
In the club sphere just go to Doonbeg – it could well be their mission statement in football too.
The grizzled performers who never say die – that attitude that has helped them plunder more county titles than any other team in Clare these past seven decades.
Just go to Kieran O’Neill for that Tomás Ó Sé outlook: the Doora-Barefield man who always gave what he had out on the field, be it with St Joseph’s when winning county, Munster and All-Ireland hurling titles, be it with the Faughs in winning a senior football title, be it with the Clare footballers in their crowded hour in Munster in ’92 or the junior hurlers the following year when Munster and All-Ireland titles were harvested.
It’s why Doonbeg and O’Neill were a perfect match. His uncle Eddie O’Neill was one of the Magpies’ greatest, winning eight county medals between ’67 and ’83, so it was a coming home of sorts for the ‘Nail’.
“I love the games. Football, hurling and to be involved with a massive club is huge,” says O’Neill. “There’s a lot of history in Doonbeg and I’m just fortunate to be coming back to Doonbeg. There are some fantastic people back there – Nuala Shanahan, Padraig Conway, Francis McInerney and all these people.”
O’Neill soldiered with Conway, McInerney and Gerry Killeen on the Munster title winning team of 1992 and now 21 years on has helped stoke the football fires of another generation of Magpies, with captain David Tubridy putting it simply when saying “Kieran has brought the toughness back into the Doonbeg jersey”.
“I didn’t do much,” says O’Neill. “David Downes, Gerry McInerney and Eddie Killeen – they’re driving the whole thing. They’re fantastic men. Everyone has taken on responsibility, which so important and that’s what’s getting us over the line.
“There’s always a fighting quality in Doonbeg. Anytime a team plays Doonbeg, you know there’ll be a battle in them and that’s what they did in the semi-final and it helped us get over the line.
“That’s the character that’s in these lads. It isn’t me that’s brought that to them. They have character and self-belief. These are lads who were champions in 2010 and they can do it when they want it – that’s the way I look at it. Hopefully it will take us to the next level that we want to go to.”
O’Neill knows that winning the county title is the only currency that matters – for Doonbeg, for himself as he faces into what will be his landmark tenth county senior final day out.
He played in three football finals – the draw and replay in ’94 when he was a winner with the Faughs against Kilrush Shamrocks; the ’95 decider when he came out on the wrong side of the result agsainst Doonbeg when captaining the Éire Óg/St Joseph’s amalgamation.
For St Joseph’s there were losing hurling finals in ’94 and ’97 against Clarecastle, before the ‘Parish’ embarked on a great run that yielded three county titles in four years between ’98 and 2001, while in 2004 he guided Kilmaley to victory over his home club in the decider.
“In a county final you have to focus in on what you’re going to bring to the table on the day,” says O’Neill. “You have to focus on your own performance and then at the end of the day it’s down to each individual player to bring the best they possibly can out of themselves.
“We know Cratloe are a great team. I watched them in the semi-final and in a few other matches. You see there – All Stars and All-Ireland champions and great experience. We know going into a county final that we’re up against a phenonmenal team.
“They beat Quilty, they’ve beaten good teams along the way. We’re going to focus on our own game and hopefully it will be good enough to beat Cratloe. It’s all about leaving whatever you have in the tank out on the field. That’s it.”