Munster Junior Football Final Preview: David Neenan looks to slay Goliath

David Neenan has a dual role with Coolmeen as they face into Sunday’s Munster final — he’s a veteran player with well over 20 years experience, but he’s also the club chairman on what is one of the biggest days in their history, writes Joe Ó Muircheartaigh.

THE club. The Parish. The Pride.
All are welded as one when it comes to Coolmeen, Cranny and their football. Those around them like Lissycasey, Kilmihil, Clondegad and Shannon Gaels may have plundered the bigger prizes, whether they were intermediate or senior titles, but it never made them feel any lesser about themselves.
They had their history too. And a rich one. The back-to-back senior titles that they won in 1922 and ’23 that to this day make a great GAA quiz question — all because there were actually the finals of 1919 and ’22 that were delayed because of the no little matter of War of Independence and Civil War activities.
And, now the guts of 100 years on from those halcyon days they’re going where none of the above clubs ever were — to a Munster final, which will arguably be the biggest day in their history as they take aim at Kerry side Templenoe.
“I am hearing stories all week about how good they are,” says veteran forward David Neenan. “I haven’t really looked at it, but they’re all saying that they’ve looked them up on the internet and they’re a great team.
“Looking at it we are under no illusions going down that these lads are playing at a higher level, playing senior football all year (with Kenmare District) and then coming back down and playing at junior level. We are going to go down and give it our best,” he adds.
What Coolmeen have always done — the small club fighting for success, however fleeting those successes have been down the years. But they’ve always come back for more — their near misses in recent years might have got them down, but the spirit was always willing.
Of the current squad David Neenan sums up that spirit more than most. He’s in the autumn of his career, but apart from chasing glory as he inches towards the 40 mark he’s also the club chairman off the field.
“It’s hard to do everything because there’s a family to juggle as well, but we’re in a great era,” says Neenan of this heavy commitments. “I know sometimes that it’s hard to get to training, but you work around that and when you have year like this it’s all worth it.
“I came in last year as chairman and it wasn’t something that I jumped at, but in a small club like Coolmeen there isn’t a huge amount of hands shooting up in the air for these jobs. When you’re so involved and when you love it so much you just like to see the club progressing. When you get a year like this it’s special, but many a year went by when things have been bad and there wasn’t too much luck, so it’s mighty that it’s different now,” he adds.
Neenan has helped ensure that this is so. Along with Sean McMahon, Noel Meaney and Kevin ‘Val’ McMahon he’s one of four survivors from the last Coolmeen side to win championship honours, all of 16 years ago.
“We won it in ’99 and I was on that team in my early 20s,” he recalls. “I’m 39 now and I came onto the team at 16 or 17, so you’re going back,” he adds fishing for when first team football first came to him. “That time you started very young because the players were scarce and there was a group of young lads shoved into the big occasion very fast.
“When we won back then maybe at that stage we should have progressed the club a small bit and went outside for a manager — I don’t know. We stayed still, while all the others around us like Clondegad moved up a gear and moved on. We stayed where we were. Maybe it was a mistake looking on it now and maybe we could have done things a little bit differently.”
Neenan has done things differently in the last year — his case of necessity being the mother of invention. “I wasn’t making the team for a few years, so last year I decided that it was going to need a small bit more effort — from myself and from everybody.
“We had to change things around ourselves — that’s the players. It wasn’t management that had to show us what to do, it had to come a small bit from inside in ourselves. It did a bit of running on the road to build up my fitness. I stayed in and had a little less Heineken and stuff and every small little bit helps.”
He had the Heineken after the county final win, while there’ll be more after Sunday, especially if they spring a surprise and bring a Munster title back west. “It was all about winning the Clare junior this year,” he says, “but a few days after we won myself and a few of the lads were saying that we were every bit as good as the team we were playing next and said ‘let’s go and give it a rattle’.
“We did that against the Limerick side, we eventually got to grips to things and played a very good second half. In the next game the home advantage was a huge thing because we had played in Cooraclare three or four times this year.”
Now to do it a third time!
“If we can up our gears since the semi-final and work hard and tackle hard, who knows?, he says. “We cannot let them dictate the game — if we let them dictate and run around the place that won’t do. We have to slow it down and maybe sometimes some of the older lads have to do a bit of thinking and just hit a few shoulders to take them off their game a small bit.
“You’d never know. We’re going to give it a good go and that’s all I’m going to say. I think there’s still a good game in us and this bunch of players are mighty and there’s a good go for us in one more 60 minutes and hopefully with a bit of luck we’ll get over the line.”

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