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Dublin: 6 °C Sunday 20 October, 2019
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How a small Cork-based club rose to the brink of All-Ireland glory

Mourneabbey are in the running for their third All-Ireland final appearance, targeting their first title.

NESTLED IN NORTH Cork, just off the Mallow-Cork road lies a close-knit rural ladies football team with a huge drive and hunger to succeed.

Ciara O'Sullivan Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Mourneabbey is a club of many successes, but it’s the All-Ireland heartbreak that often overshadows them. A small community wounded by many other heartbreaking events over the past few years but bonded through sport.

The Clyda side have come out on the worst end of the past two All-Ireland senior finals, losing to Termon and Donaghmoyne respectively.

This year, the side are hoping it’s a case of third time’s a charm. Having beaten rival club St Vals by a single point in the county final, it’s onto the more serious end of business.

With two consecutive provincial titles under their belt, Mourneabbey will be hoping to claim their third against Clare side The Banner on Saturday.

The last time the teams met on the provincial stage was two years ago. Off the back of their first senior county final win, Mourneabbey lined out against the defending Munster champions as complete underdogs. This time, things are probably the opposite way around, with the Cork force as strong favourites.

A win on Saturday would also mean one step closer to a much sought after All-Ireland senior title.

“Looking back on it, it would be third time’s a charm but we can’t look beyond the Banner. That is a cliche but it’s so true,” team manager Dominic Gallagher tells The42.

“We haven’t looked beyond any game this year and we’re going to continue with that. We decided very early on that we were just going to go game by game.”

“Winning Cork is massive and that would have been our target at the start of the year. To go any further than that, we’re in bonus territory now.”

It’s been an outstanding story for the small club from the Rebel county. Their rise to where they find themselves today began in 2005 when they were crowned All-Ireland junior champions.

Two years later came the next big step on the ladder, winning the intermediate All-Ireland club championship and making the highly anticipated leap to senior level.

The high standard of ladies football in Cork meant that it took a few years to bridge the gap and settle into the rhythm of senior football.

Then came the management team, which includes Dominic Gallagher and Shane Ronayne, the men that have helped them get where they are today.

2014 brought the first of three consecutive county senior titles. That year, anything after that stage was a huge bonus. Little did they know they’d find themselves crowned Munster champions, never mind in an All-Ireland final weeks later, but this time at the highest grade.

A heartbreaking defeat to Donegal side Termon meant that Mourneabbey’s dream was over. Until it started again the following year.

Sile O'Callaghan dejected at the final whistle Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Another county final win over St Vals and a provincial title victory at the hands of Waterford’s Ballymacarbry meant that Mourneabbey were within touching distance of another All-Ireland final just 12 months on.

The semi-final saw them paired with Connacht champions and Galway side Kilkerrin/Clonberne. They come out on the successful side of the tale by a single point.

And there they were again. Just 60 minutes away from getting their hands on the Dolores Tyrell Cup and banishing the memories and nightmares of the previous year.

Seven minutes on the clock. Eight points a piece. This could have been Mourneabbey’s time.

But despite having just 13 players on the field, Donaghmoyne pushed on to win by three and to crush the dreams of the Cork side yet again.

Aisling O'Sullivan dejected Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

This is the point where most teams would crumble. But Mourneabbey are a different class. They’re on another level. And they’re back for more.

“They’re a seriously dedicated bunch of players. They work extremely hard, they’re very focused in what they do as well as being extremely talented,” Gallagher said.

“But not without the hard work of course, they put in the hours on the pitch — that’s it in a nutshell really.”

On motivating his troops year in year out, team coach Shane Ronayne says that it’s not as hard as it may appear.

“The girls are very good that way. They’re very driven to succeed and self-motivated.

“We had two very long campaigns, they were successful up to a point. We were very disappointed with the way things were in the last two All-Ireland finals.

“I suppose we gave them a good break there after Christmas, we didn’t go back too early. We tried to change it up in training by doing different things and bringing a bit of fun in if we can.

Gallagher feels that a lot of it is down to the players themselves.

“It’s very reliant on the individuals making their individual sacrifices that make up your team ones.

“It’s down to individuals turning up on the wet nights at the start of the year and putting in the hard slog, even away from the training pitch. Doing the right thing in preparation — their food, their hydration, their lifestyle in general.

“They make big sacrifices there as well. They’re a strong unit, they talk to each other, they motivate each other and they decided at the start of the year they wanted to go again. It’s a credit to them.”

Mourneabbey panel Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

You get the sense that one of the contributing factors of the club’s success is how close the girls themselves are.

“It’s a small club, they’re in one parish. They’ve all played with each other from a young age,” Gallagher continues. “They socialise together, they are quite tight.”

“We’ve had a few younger players coming in this year to freshen it up a bit, they’ve been welcomed in and they’re prepared to put in the hard shift as well. As long as you’re willing to do that, you’re welcomed in.”

Mourneabbey are not lying down until they get their senior All-Ireland title, until they’re the first club in the country to win titles at junior, intermediate and senior levels. Some of the players involved from 2005 are still on the panel.

“That’s a driving force for them (winning a senior title). They’d love to be able to have won the three but we had to kind of stop talking about All-Irelands and that early on,” Ronayne explains.

“The experience that they do have is fantastic. They’re very good to the younger players they’re great to give them advice.”

With regards training and the tactical end of things, what Ronayne is doing is obviously working.

“We do a fair bit of running at training at different times, but we wouldn’t do any stuff in the gym really, girls would be doing a bit themselves,” the coach told The42. “We do a lot of ball work and conditioning at the end (of training) and things like that.

“We try to stick to what we know, things we’ve done the past few years. We try to change it up a small bit to be sure that we have a presence up the field for attacking and things like that but we stick to basic stuff.

“It’s worked the last few years and the girls are happy with that. They know there’ll be no surprises.

“We’ve done a little bit of tweaking of things and hopefully those tweaks can get us onto that next step.”

When asked to describe their team in just a few words, the Cork native doesn’t hesitate.

“Highly-motivated, driven and a never-say-die attitude.”

“Driven, dedicated and extremely hard-working. Honest is probably a good word — dedicated, driven and honest” was Gallagher’s response on the other hand.

Turning their focus to Saturday’s clash in Mallow, Ronayne and Gallagher are confident in their side’s ability despite the strong challenge ahead of them.

“We’re happy with the way we’re going ourselves. If we play like we did in the first half and the start of the second half (of the county final), we’d be very happy with that performance, but we can’t afford to sit back like we did towards the end,” Ronayne said.

One thing’s for sure, they won’t be short of support. The entire parish will be out donning the black and amber of Mourneabbey.

“It worked out nicely for us that we haven’t got a far distance to travel but our supporters have travelled everywhere for us. Two years ago, we had to go to London to play a game and a massive crowd followed us over,” Gallagher recalls.

“Wherever we went, they supported us and it’ll be the same Saturday. Hopefully we have success and do the job for them.”

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Emma Duffy

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