Fr O'Neills return to Croke Park
By Cian O’Connell
In Fr O’Neills belief always existed. Silverware could be attained and talented hurlers crafted.
Such conviction is beginning to be reflected on the playing fields of Cork, Munster, and now nationally as they return to action at Croke Park.
It is 14 years since Fr O’Neills captured the AIB All Ireland Junior Championship crown and Declan Dalton, part of a gifted emerging crop, is delighted to be going to the Jones Road venue to face Tullaroan on Saturday evening.
“You have a couple of lads, two, that played in 2006, they are pushing on a small bit now,” Dalton laughs about survivors from that success Eoin Conway and Paudge Butler.
The intervening decade and a half has been about investing heavily in the juvenile ranks, a mission which Fr O’Neills have accomplished.
“Definitely, to be a good club you need to have an underage structure that is doing very well,” Dalton replies.
“O'Neills have an underage structure in place that is doing extremely well, bringing home cups. Every underage structure that is bringing home cups you can see that it is going to push on to the higher levels. As you can see now that is the way it is ending up.
“For a small parish like ourselves down at home it is very exciting. It is the second time we are going to Croke Park for an All Ireland Final, hopefully we can make it two out of two.”
That several hurlers from the club have featured for Cork at minor, Under 21, and Under 20 level bodes well for the future according to Dalton.
“Obviously it is good having lads on an inter-county panel even at underage so getting them playing Under 21s and senior is important,” Dalton admits.
“Getting as many players as you can have on is only going to strengthen your team and everything around it. They can just bring things back to the club which will help the club along and make the club a better team.
“We only went up Premier Intermediate in 2016 and since then we have been in a Quarter-Final, Semi-Final, and then we won it a couple of months ago. We are making big strides in Cork and hopefully in the next couple of years that will keep improving.”
Dalton has been a prominent figure in Imokilly’s impressive Cork Senior Hurling Championship triumphs. “With Imokilly we have won three in a row with five players from Fr O'Neills on that panel,” Dalton states.
“Any team that can bring five players to an Imokilly team is doing well. We had four starting in a team like Imokilly with Seamie Harnedy and Bill Cooper starting it just strengthens your club team.
For instance you might have Championship with Fr O'Neills on a Sunday and then the week after you might have Championship with Imokilly.
“The week for your club you are with your club and the week Imokilly have Championship you are with Imokilly.
“It evens out and gives everyone a break not being with each other the whole time. Obviously we get along with each other, but you need a break when the year goes on so long.”
This year Fr O’Neills will operate at Senior B in Cork which is another positive development. “That is what you strive for, it is what the club is pushing towards always having someone at a high level,” Dalton adds.
“In the next couple of years hopefully we can do that. We are gone from playing with Imokilly, but in the next couple of years with O'Neills hopefully we can push up into Senior A.”
Dalton was involved with Cork in 2019 and is be eager to make an impression in the coming months with Kieran Kingston returning as manager.
“It is great to have Kieran back in, what he has done for Cork hurling in the last number of years is very exciting,” Dalton remarks. “Hopefully in the next year or two I can push myself on to that panel.”