Fr O'Neills enjoying excellent campaign
By Cian O’Connell
It has been another glorious adventure for Fr O’Neills.
Having gleaned the Cork Premier Intermediate Championship, Fr O’Neills have subsequently won two games in Munster to reach a provincial decider against Ballysaggart.
That eagerly anticipated encounter at Fraher Field this Sunday promises to be interesting.
Fr O’Neills secretary Liam Leahy is thrilled by the strides made during the past number of years acknowledging the importance of a particularly talented crop which collected the Cork Under 21 A title in 2018.
“We are lucky enough, we had a brilliant bunch that came up from Under 12 and basically won everything,” Leahy admits.
“They were playing in the top competitions, the top grades in Cork. They were a brilliant team with about five or six of them on the team and maybe 10 on the panel. They won the Under 21 A last year beating all of the city clubs and the big clubs. So it was a mighty win for the club. Basically this team is based on that.”
Cork senior panelist Declan Dalton has been a key figure in Fr O’Neill’s rise with Leahy stressing how this crop of players has delivered for Fr O’Neills.
“It was just a good group, they started together in school and kept it going all the way up,” Leahy adds. “Deccie Dalton would be one, Sean O'Connor, Daniel Harrington, who is captain, they all would have been in that group.
“Without a doubt it was the most talented group the club ever had. We often had good teams with good individuals, who played for Cork minors and whatever, but it was the first time ever we had a bunch of eight, nine, 10, 12 fellas that were good enough to play in the A competitions.”
Now to be relevant again on the Cork and Munster stages is critical for the development of Fr O’Neills, who have two survivors from the 2006 AIB All Ireland Junior winning team.
“It is fantastic for the club,” Leahy states. “We were in the All Ireland Junior Final in 2006 which we were lucky enough to win. We are back in a Munster Final again which is terrific for a small club like ourselves.
“It was brilliant for us to win the All Ireland after our first ever county. So it was fantastic. We have two lads, Eoin Conway, who will be starting on Sunday and Paudge Butler will also be starting.”
Leahy has been encouraged by how Fr O’Neills have fared and followed up that junior triumph by producing solid players in the intervening decade.
“We won the lower Intermediate three years ago under Noel Furlong which was a big breakthrough,” Leahy remarks.
“We had been knocking on the door for that for three or four years. We made the breakthrough three years ago and the last couple of years we were unlucky.
“We played Ballinhassig inside in Midleton our first year up Premier, we were unlucky to lose that. We were beaten by the eventual champions Charleville last year. We had been one of the favourites there is no doubt about it to win the county in Cork.”
Divisional outfit Imokilly have enjoyed a productive spell in the Cork Senior Championship with Fr O’Neills contributing handsomely to the 2019 triumph.
“We had five or six on the Imokilly panel this year -Deccie Dalton, Daniel Harrington, Joe Millerick, Ger Millerick, the Cork Under 20, Billy Dunne, and Mark O'Keeffe, who started all of the games,” Leahy says.
“It works, Imokilly do their own thing, they don't do a whole pile of training. They prepare the week of a match, but we would have our lads most of the time. So there is never a problem with Imokilly actually, it works very good.”
The Cork Under 21 winning crop of 2018 are beginning to demonstrate their potential in the adult grade, but hard graft continues in the juvenile ranks even though Fr O’Neills don’t always operate at the highest level.
“We defended the Premier Under 21 this year, but we were unlucky to be beaten by Duhallow last Friday night,” Leahy responds.
“We had only three of the team that played last year in the team so we were delighted with them to be competing. Down along then in minor, Under 16, Under 14 we wouldn't be in the top grades, we would be in Bs and lower grades.
“We would be a small club geographically. Ballymacoda, Ladysbridge, and Garryvoe would be the three places. In the last few years there has been a lot of new people coming into the parish which is great. They have all added to the club.”
There is no shortage of excitement or hurling talk presently with Leahy delighted by the impact Fr O’Neills success is having in the community.
“It is phenomenal, we are riding on the crest of a wave at the moment,” Leahy acknowledges. “It is incredible. Since the County Final there has been huge excitement. We played down in Limerick, Kilfinnin against Blackrock in the first round of the Munster.
“We took a good following down there, we had a great day. Then the bandwagon rolled on to Midleton which was like a home game for us.
“We had a great win against Broadford. Now it is like a local derby again when we play Ballysaggart in Dungarvan. We are expecting a big following on Sunday, hopefully we will get the right result.”