Russell Rovers remarkable adventure
By Cian O’Connell
Something is stirring in East Cork. Russell Rovers’ rise is dramatic with Brian Hartnett stressing the improvements made during the past decade.
On Saturday Russell Rovers will contest the AIB All Ireland Junior Hurling Championship, while Father O’Neills compete in the Intermediate decider.
These truly are interesting times for this particular pocket of Cork with Hartnett enjoying the adventure with an appearance at Croke Park against Conahy Shamrocks next on the agenda.
“It is great, seeing all of the publicity for it,” Hartnett says about the recent stint. “For us it is pretty phenomenal.
“We are made up of villages in East Cork. We are between Father O'Neills and Cloyne. We are actually in the same parish as Cloyne.
“We have been in their shadow for a long time - Shanagarry, Garryoe, Ballycotton, and Churchtown make up the club. Going back three or four years ago we would have been the whipping boys of East Cork. We were down in Junior B 10 or 12 years ago, we were definitely seen as the whipping boys.
“We won our first East Cork title two years ago, we contested a County Final in 2018 and were unfortunately beaten and finally got the County win then.
“Our success is certainly is in the last two years because before that we were the whipping boys.”
Now, though, Russell Rovers are respected, especially after securing Cork and Munster triumphs in 2019. Hartnett is adamant that a Cork Minor Championship secured in 2015 by St Colman’s – an amalgamation of Russell Rovers and Cloyne – managed by Donal Og Cusack was critical.
“A minor team won a County with Donal Og as the manager at the time,” Hartnett recalls. “A lot of that team backbone our team now.
“I think those underage guys have been winning since underage and are not fazed about where the club was or losing. They take it all in their stride and have the mentality of continuing winning basically.
“Off the field we have been fairly lucky in the last couple of years to get some very good management and coaches down. We had Frank Flannery down with us, a fantastic manager. He really put steel into us that we didn't have, he put a unity in the team.
“This year we have Noel Furlong, who is a fantastic man and a fantastic coach. He has put the fine detail on it. Both of those combined is how we have got the success, I suppose.”
During his student days Hartnett emerged as a splendid Fitzgibbon Cup performer earning a call up to the Cork senior panel. Now more from the club are beginning to make a mark with Cork underage outfits.
“Down through the years not so much,” Hartnett responds about players from the club representing Cork.
“We’ve had a couple, but more so now we have a few guys who will be getting involved with the Imokilly panel going forward.
“At underage we'd have guys involved in Cork Development squads, then with the Colleges we'd have a few more getting a chance with that.
“The level in the last couple of years has certainly increased. No doubt it is to do with guys getting that extra exposure in higher levels of different competitions.”
While trying to make a career with Cork, Hartnett also had a stint with Midleton winning a County Senior Championship in 2013.
“At the time it was a decision I made to try to make that breakthrough,” Hartnett recalls. “When the time came around I gave it my shot. It didn't transpire then it was a case of coming back with the lads. I was trying to get into that senior panel, it was the aim.
“I was lucky enough to win a County with Midleton in 2013 and a Premier Under 21 County. We won two with Midleton in 2013. Unfortunately that was the last senior that they won, they haven't made another breakthrough since, but it was nice to win with them in 2013.”
Returning to Russell Rovers colours, though, has proven to be exciting for Hartnett, who demonstrated his ability in an edgy semi-final triumph over a gutsy Micheal Breathnach’s from Galway.
Russell Rovers trailed late on before finishing with a flourish in extra-time at Kilmallock. “I think we knew we wouldn't get it our own way against a strong, physical side from Galway,” Hartnett admits.
“We knew that they would put it up to us. I think halfway through the second half we maybe took the foot off the pedal a bit.
“We got a six point lead and thought that we might coast it from there, but they brought it right back.
“They got a goal right on the stroke of full-time, we just pulled two frees out of the bag to get extra-time. Once we got into extra-time I think we regrouped and played our normal game. That showed.”
Now a rewarding trip to GAA headquarters looms for Russell Rovers with Hartnett accepting that the future suddenly glimmers with promise and possibilities.
“Absolutely and when you see all the games the support we have been getting is absolutely fantastic,” Hartnett adds.
“The whole parish is coming out and you can see all the kids from the underage. Numbers are tight, there is no denying that with the juvenile club.
“Hopefully the success we are having now will inspire them a bit and we can get more of the kids in the underage playing and excited about it. Hopefully they can continue the upward trajectory we are seeing at the moment.”