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After endless heartbreak, the time is now for Mourneabbey to reach the Holy Grail

They’ve come within touching distance of All-Ireland glory over the past three years, but the Cork kingpins are yet to get over the line.

Updated Nov 30th 2017, 8:31 AM

TALK ABOUT A journey of ups and downs, highs and lows, heartbreak and elation.

brid Bríd O'Sullivan.

In 2014, Mourneabbey won their first Cork senior championship title.

Having already surpassed everyone’s expectations, they progressed through Munster and collected a first provincial crown at that grade.

They were in dreamland, and little did they know that weeks later they’d be in an All-Ireland final. The year ended in heartbreak however, losing out to Donegal side Termon.

But 12 months later, they found themselves repeating the feat at county and provincial level and back in the top two sides in the country.

Another fall at the final hurdle ensued as Monaghan and Ulster kingpins Donaghmoyne shattered the dream and lifted the Dolores Tyrrell Memorial Cup as their 2015 conquerors.

At this stage, most teams would crumble. But not Mourneabbey. Third time lucky became a mantra throughout 2016.

But now, they’re hoping it’s a case of fourth time’s the charm.

After having their hearts broken year again by Donaghmoyne at the semi-final stage last year, there’s a sense that is it. 2017 could be the year they finally reach the Holy Grail.

The players have said it. They didn’t come back to win a county championship or a Munster title, they’re here for the All-Ireland crown.

A direct quote from key forward Doireann O’Sullivan before the semi-final:

“We didn’t come back to win a county or we didn’t come back to win a Munster,” she told The42. “I know that might sound ridiculous, but this is our fourth year at it now.”

And captain Bríd O’Sullivan is the first to echo her teammate’s words as they prepare for huge opposition in the form of Mayo kingpins and five-time winners Carnacon.

Sile O'Callaghan and Emma Coakley dejected Heartbreak after the 2015 decider. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The end goal has been clear from the get-go, and they’re closer than ever to that coveted All-Ireland title.

“It’s probably a bit easier to come back after losing because there’s something driving you forward and there’s something out there that you really want to get,” O’Sullivan begins.

“It gets a bit harder every year, dealing with the disappointment and trying to build yourself back up again but we all love playing for Mourneabbey.

“There’s such a sense of community in Mourneabbey and a sense of pride for playing with Mourneabbey. We love it. We’re just delighted to be back in the final.”

The Clyda outfit lifted the All-Ireland junior title in 2005, and backed that up with the intermediate crown in 2007.

If they were to finally capture the senior honour, it would make for an historic treble. They’d become the first-ever Ladies football club in the country to make it three titles across three grades.

And there’s a small group — O’Sullivan’s unsure of how many, but reckons five or six — that have been there since ’05, through thick and think and would make it a remarkable individual treble.

In fact, of the nine titles available to Ladies club footballers — county, provincial and All-Ireland at all three grades — they’d have all nine.

“They’ve been involved in building our club in Mourneabbey from the ground up,” O’Sullivan says.

“They were only teenagers winning a junior All-Ireland final. Some of them were only 12 or 13 and then winning an intermediate, most of them were still in secondary school.

“They’ve now grown into our senior players and they’re the people that our younger players look up to. It’s brilliant that they’ve had that experience of playing at that level for so long.”

Brid O'Sullivan and Eimear Meaney celebrate O'Sullivan and clubmate Eimear Meaney after Cork's league win in May. Source: Tom Beary/INPHO

O’Sullivan has tasted endless amounts of success with the Cork senior set-up over the past few years. But that club All-Ireland title is the notable absentee from her trophy cabinet.

2017, she agrees, wasn’t the best of years by Cork’s standards with just a league title to show for their efforts. Failing to reach the All-Ireland final was obviously disappointing, but then again every cloud has a silver lining.

Kinsale and Aghada are both gunning for intermediate and junior glory, and it brings back memories of 2003 and the clean sweep across all three grades at national level for Cork clubs.

“Even though we were absolutely devastated to be knocked out in the semi-final (with Cork), that did have a lot to do with the club success this year,” O’Sullivan continues.

“We had a bit more time to spend with our clubs and I’m sure the girls with Kinsale and Aghada that were involved with Cork would agree that it’s hard to do it all.

“Getting knocked out a bit earlier did give you extra time to spend with your club and maybe that did have a lot to do with the success that Cork clubs have been having this year.”

Through Mourneabbey’s journey of admirable success and gut-wrenching heartbreak over the last few years, there’s been one constant at the helm.

Shane Ronayne came on board in 2014 and has been a revelation to Ladies football in Mourneabbey since, O’Sullivan agrees.

He helped Tipperary end a long wait for the All-Ireland intermediate title in September, and hoping he can steer her side over the line at long last, O’Sullivan explained:

“He’s an excellent manager and all of us as players have so much time for him. He has just put endless work into Mourneabbey over the last four years.

“We were really struggling at even county level to get past the group stages, to get into semi-finals and finals and Shane really turned things around for us when he got involved four years ago.

Brid O'Sullivan and Roisin McCafferty O'Sullivan in action for Mourneabbey. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“We won our first ever senior county final under him and we’ve just gone from strength to strength since then. I won’t deny that there are times when he gets frustrated with us, we get frustrated with him but we won’t get into that!”

There’s something special about this group though. O’Sullivan recently described the hierarchy in the Mourneabbey from an age perspective.

The older players are called ‘Nazareth,’ after a nursing home in Mallow. The middle group is called ‘half-way’ and the younger girls are in the ‘creche’.

“I got a bit of stick for letting the entire country know that they were named after a nursing home,” she grins, when it’s put to her.

“We have the groups as a bit of a laugh but at the same time, age isn’t really an issue with Mourneabbey. The youngest player on the pitch is friends with the oldest player on the pitch, it’s just a laugh really.”

A teacher based in Cork, she lives with the aforementioned Doireann O’Sullivan — no relation — and Máire O’Callaghan, and she laughs that they spend every waking moment together between club and county.

There’s surely only one topic of conversation around the dinner table this week.

Sunday.

The 60 minutes of football and Carnacon force that stand in the way of finally reaching the Holy Grail.

It’ll be the first time the sides meet so there’s an element of the unknown, but with names like Cora Staunton, Martha Carter and Fiona McHale in their ranks, O’Sullivan is well aware of the mammoth task that lies ahead.

“They have plenty of experience at club All-Ireland level as well,” she remarks.

“Over the past 10 or so years, they’ve always been there or thereabouts. Cora’s record speaks for itself, winning her 11th All-Star at the weekend.

Cora Staunton and Brid O'Sullivan Mourneabbey and Carnacon face off in Parnell Park on Sunday. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“It’s definitely going to be a massive challenge for us but one that we’re willing to face head on.

“This year we’ve been concentrating a lot on ourselves and going out and playing our own game so we’re just going to try and not read too much into it, and just take it as one more match.”

And captaining her club to All-Ireland glory, would that be the biggest moment of her footballing career to date?

“Oh definitely, yeah,” O’Sullivan concludes. “We’ve lots of players with lots of experience and I suppose the captain is only a title.

“There’s plenty of players on the Mourneabbey team that even I look up to, used to look up to when I was younger and still do.

“It’s just a great honour for me to be able to represent them and hopefully be able to lift the cup for them on Sunday.”

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

‘I’ll be flying off, please God, with an All-Ireland club medal in the back pocket’

Rise to the top! ‘First county, first Munster and fingers crossed now, first All-Ireland’

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