Amidst Clonlara’s meteoric rise from intermediate to senior champions at the backend of the last decade, Cathal O’Connell was wetting his lips at the prospect of joining his elder brothers Ger and Nicky in their successes. While Nicky had won Minor, Under 21A, Intermediate and senior in a short space of time, Tots as he is better known, along with Colm Galvin and the O’Brien’s Oisin and Shane followed with Under 16B and Minor B crowns but expected to extend Clonlara’s period at the helm once they came of age.
Eight years on and Clonlara are still trying to replicate that sole 2008 title victory, with a string of hard luck stories at the penultimate stage finally been consigned to the history books with back-to-back final appearances.
We could feel a game like this was going to come and last year people said that the ‘Bridge was our first real test in the final but we crumbled so we knew against Cratloe that we needed a massive work-rate particularly in the forwards if we wanted to win the game.
“Myself, Colm [Galvin] and Oisin O’Brien, we were in that age group where we were looking at the success and we thought that when we got to senior that hopefully we would continue that success. But after 2009, it took us six years to get back to a final and this is our eighth year since winning in 2008.
“To be honest, last year was a year we wanted to remember but also forget because since I’ve been playing senior, we had been losing semi-finals and semi-finals but finally we got to the final last year. And maybe there was extra pressure that after making that breakthrough that we’d get over the line but I think it was a learning curve and something that we’ll be focusing on to put right this year.”
That shot at retribution was hard earned though, with a tough opener with Kilmaley and a late scare in the quarter-final against Tulla making way for their performance of the campaign last time out when finally taking the scalp of 2014 champions Cratloe.
“This year we have been so focused and have taken one game at a time and we know that if we perform that it will take a good team to beat us. Against Tulla in the quarter-final, we just kind of hit a slump during the match but we knew that we’d rise to Cratloe. We just knew that such a big draw would get it out of us so we’re so happy that we just performed on the day even under the pressure.
“We could feel a game like this was going to come and last year people said that the ‘Bridge was our first real test in the final but we crumbled so we knew against Cratloe that we needed a massive work-rate particularly in the forwards if we wanted to win the game.
“We were so organised and had a good gameplan and it was the first time we stuck to our gameplan without any slumps in the match and even when we had a man sent off, we never lost our focus. It was just refreshing to know that we can get to that level again.”
Clonlara’s potential has never been in doubt but while they have the edge on experience this Sunday, the youngest of the three O’Connell brothers on the team is acutely aware of the threat of a momentum-filled Ballyea.
“To be honest, it’s no surprise that Ballyea are there now because in my age group and the year ahead, Ballyea and the ‘Bridge were always the top two teams so we’re under no illusions to how difficult it’s going to be and how good they are. I know a lot of them personally and know their capabilities so we realise that it’s going to be an absolute dogfight on Sunday and I’m just looking forward to it.
“I’ve played in a few big matches but last year was my first time walking behind the band and that stuff so that experience should help us. We now know the hype and stuff of a county final and while these things are all part of it, we have our focus this time around.
“And maybe it’s Ballyea’s first final but they have a lot of big players who’ve played in big games so I don’t thing nerves will affect them. So we just need to stand toe-to-toe with them, fight it out and see where it brings us.”