Clonbullogue will be going in search of more honours on Saturday.
WHILE his young players kept their eyes on the stars, dreaming of what might be for the 2022 season, Clonbullogue manager Joe Kilmurray went into this campaign with a much more prosaic ambition.
“We just wanted to retain Senior B status, if you’d asked me at the start of the year I’d have said that consolidating our place at this level would represent a good championship,” said the former Rhode player.
“Obviously younger players are different, when you’re in that 19 to 23 age bracket, then there’s an element of fearlessness about you, you feel you can take anyone on, and that’s great, I don’t want to take that out of our players,” he continued.
“But we still went into this championship and we were looking at Bracknagh as the obvious favourites. They were just down from senior A with plenty of experience, loads of talent and then you have Peter Cunningham, who you’d pay to see just by himself. Tubber had lots going for them too, they were probably next on the list, and then there probably was very little to call between the other six clubs. Some had lots of young talent, some had incredible experience, but all of them had something to offer and they were all very competitive”.
However while Kilmurray spoke of a few harsh lessons early in the league, the 2021 Leinster Junior champions settled about their work and they received a huge boost in July when Joe Foran’s hat-trick helped them to a Division Two league title at the expense of their neighbours from Bracknagh.
“Our first game against Tubber was an eye-opener, then we lost to Erin Rovers, so the feelgood aspect from the Leinster championship wasn’t long dissipating, we got our reality check,” he said.
“But look, I’ll say this about these lads, they love playing football and they want to train. I’m enjoying working with them because they’re so committed, they’d do anything for you, and when you have that attitude, you’ll learn from your setbacks and you’ll keep getting better”.
There certainly were setbacks in the semi-final against Tubber, with the game ultimately hinging on a Jack McEvoy ’45' that sent the game into extra-time. Clonbullogue badly needed a strong impact off the bench and while county senior star Keith O’Neill was visibly hampered by his injury, Jamie Guing proved to be a game-changer with a series of vital points.
Kilmurray attributed his side’s disjointed performance to both the way Tubber approached the game, and to Clonbullogue’s unfamiliarity with playing games at this altitude.
“Look, the quality wasn’t great in the first half, it was a typical semi-final in that the two teams were sizing each other up, there was tension and nerves out there, and plenty of missed chances. We got into our groove a bit in the second half of the game, we got a couple of crucial scores at the right time, and then of course there was that pressure kick at the end,” he explained.
“Ultimately there’s a sense of relief there that we got through, and now it’s all new territory for us. Clonbullogue have never been in this position before, we’ve never been a senior club, and we have a chance to break new ground”.
Of course, Clonbullogue’s footballing history is not as simple as 99 years in existence, never to dine at the top table. Founded in 1923, players from the area had played with Bracknagh prior to that, while in subsequent years, they pitched in as part of several Walsh Island teams. The unique connectedness of the three clubs in Clonbullogue parish, currently manifested in their joint venture at underage level, adds an extra dimension to Saturday’s final, over and above the standard ‘local derby’ element.
“We’re in the middle of a remarkable few weeks around here, the excitement is incredible and you can feel it every time you drive into the pitch” is Kilmurray’s experience.
“The players know each other inside out, they’re friends with each other, and it makes this current time so special. Perhaps it could be a good thing, it becomes about the special occasion for the parish, as opposed to being all about the county final, senior status, all that stuff”.
“As management, all we can do is step back from that and treat it like another football game. When we started our training, we broke down the whole season into blocks, and this stage of the year is just another step, even though it’s a step that we never knew if we’d get to take it. But for the players it is a special occasion, and we’re going to let them enjoy that, and hopefully it brings out the best in them this weekend”.
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