Castlemartyr Notes

07 September, 2009

CASTLEMARTYR FINALLY REACH THE PROMISED LAND

CASTLEMARTYR.................................0-23

SARSFIELDS........................................2-11

And in the end the final whistle blew, the dam burst, and the floodgates opened. Totally spent players sank to their knees and wept. But this time they were not weeping in pain. They were not weeping about another near miss, another heavy defeat or another false dawn. They were finally weeping tears of real joy, of complete and utter happiness. They had done what they had set out to do, when they had first caught a hurley. Many players like 41 year old goalkeeper Dave Fleming and 34 year old Jimmy Smiddy, had travelled a long and torturous journey to this point. And finally in the end it was worth it. Castlemartyr mentors and supporters swarmed into the field embracing their new heroes. Emotions ran high as 45 years of pain was banished, in a welter of excitement, bear hugs, back slaps and yes, more tears of joy. There was an element of disbelief, is this happening to us, Castlemartyr, the hurling team that had got too used to being beaten over the last half century. But believe we did, when we saw victorious captain Ollie Smiddy lift the cup to tumultuous cheering. The famine was over. Let the celebrations begin.

When all is said and done, this game will go down as one of the best East Cork finals ever played. It was played in front of a huge crowd, on an ideal sod, in an absolutely cracking atmosphere. Sarsfields 4/1 on favourites exploded out of the blocks, and at the end of the first quarter were 2-5 to 0-3 to the good. It looked bleak for the Reds at this stage, but by half time the deficit was down to 5 points, and we knew at least that Castlemartyr were not going to bow out tamely this time. But the second half.....!!!!!. When the history of the club will be written, that second thirty minutes in Rosdellen will surely go down as the best thirty ever. Fourteen points, each greeted with an increasing roar of belief, pride and emotion, to Sars paltry 3, put clear daylight between the sides. That second half was the purplest of purple patches, the culmination of years of hard work into a perfect ten out of ten team performance, where everything came together and clicked into place. It was the Riverdance of hurling.

The game started at a rip roaring pace from the off, and it was obvious that both teams were well up for the task on hand. Jimmy Smiddy in particular looked wired, and when on the third minute he ran 40 yards at the Sars defence, drawing a free, which he pointed to open the scoring you knew that at least Castlemartyr were not going to freeze. Sars quickly replied however, and struck back with 4 unanswered points of their own. The worrying aspect at this point from a Reds point of view, was that although we were hassling very well, Sars appeared to have enough craft and guile to eventually make the openings and punish us on the scoreboard .Frees were been conceded in the midfield area, and with the aid of a stiffish breeze, Sars were raising white flags at their ease. Brian Lawton reduced the gap to two, when he caught a Dave Fleming puck out and tossed it over the bar from 60 yards on the 9th minute, but two minutes later Sars full forward Garvin McCarthy crashed an unstoppable ball to the net to make it 1-4 to 2 points. On the puck out, Sars added another point, but almost immediately Evan O Keeffe jumped high to catch a well struck Derek Bowens sideline cut and was subsequently fouled. Jimmy pointed the free, but disaster struck almost immediately when Sars dangerous corner forward Eoin O Sullivan pounced their second goal to make it 2-5 to 0-3 with a quarter of an hour’s hard hurling gone.

At this stage the most optimistic of Castlemartyr fans, must have feared the worst. Eight points down, in their first East Cork final in 34 years and playing against the hottest of favourites, there was a danger that Sars would have the game over by half time. But in an immediate reply to the goal, a well up for it Evan O Keefe, scored a fine point following good work by the increasingly influential Jimmy Smiddy, and Evan was unlucky a minute later when he won a good ball but shot agonisingly wide of the uprights. Centre forward Seanie Hennessy was starting now to dominate his sector and was throwing himself about with little regard for his personal safety and little by little the Reds were weathering the early Sars onslaught and getting a small grip around the midfield area. Points were exchanged on the 19th minute with Jimmy scoring another free and then 3 minutes later came a turning point in the game.

Impressive reitoir Patrick O Driscoll who left the game flow throughout called for a clash ball and as he was throwing it in between Jimmy Smiddy and his marker there was much jostling and pushing from the Sars man. Jimmy however, was as usual, coolness personified, which irked the Sars man enough to strike Jimmy with the hurley in front of the referee drawing a yellow card for his trouble. The crowd’s dander was up and when the ball was eventually thrown in, the Reds earned a free immediately, which Jimmy pointed to deafening cheers. It was now 2-6 to 0-6.It was clear that Castlemartyr were not going to go down without a fight. The decibel level rose another notch a minute later, when young Barry Lawton reduced the margin to 5 points with a marvellous point out by the wire , and when the same player was bearing down on goal almost immediately after , being put through by Jimmy, we prayed that the net would dance, but not this time. The Sars defence snuffed out the shot and the chance was lost.

The game was ebbing and flowing at a manic tempo at this stage and it was hard to believe that it was two junior teams we were watching. Barra O Tuama at corner back was playing the game of his life, marking the main Sars danger man, and out first to every ball. From here to half time both teams appeared to be trying to set done a marker for the second half with points being swopped quickly. As usual it was the reliable Jimmy who did the Castlemartyr scoring, the first a solo effort from catching a puck out and the second, following a fine hand pass from the lively Adrian Bowens, being the final act of the half.

So at half time it was 2-8 to 0-9 to the Sars men. What did the Reds supporters think at half time? Well they knew we were putting up a brave fight, but they didn’t know if it was going to be enough. There had been too many hard luck stories down through the years to be hopeful, and this was a serious Sars team, but the 15 in the dressing room were on a different wavelength. What was said at half time? Whatever it was, it appeared that all the team promised each other that they were going to leave everything on the field, and “empty the tank”. If they did that and still lost, at least they would be able to look each other in the eye afterwards.

It was vital that Castlemartyr would get the first score in the second half to put doubt in Sars minds, and almost immediately our prayers were answered. The heartbeat of the side, Brain Lawton led the way with a fine point. Sean Hennessy squeezed one over on the puck out. Barry Lawton threw on another. Brian Smiddy was brave, drew a free. Jimmy pointed. The pace was astonishing. Castlemartyr had reduced the margin from 5 points to only one after just 3 minutes of the second half. The Castlemartyr crowd and also the many neutrals were roaring on frenzied encouragement. It was game on!

Sars stopped the rot to increase the margin to 3points again with 2 points on the 35th and 37th minute to make it 2-10 to 0-13, but a minute later Barry Lawton bore down on goal again with a 3 pointer on his mind, only to be foiled by the Sars keeper. Evan O Keeffe pounced on the rebound but it was ushered out for a 65, which the unerring Jimmy Smiddy pointed to bring the margin back to 2.

From here to the finish it’s a daze of red and white. When a team collectively decides to play out of its skin for each other, their manager, and their parish, the last 20 minutes of this game is what can happen. The recently introduced Colin Bowens made an immediate impact and scored a sweet point on the 40th minute to reduce it to a single point game and when 2 minutes later Evan O Keeffe, nephew of ’64 captain John, dissected the posts yet again to equalise, the ghost was getting worried. The red and white purple patch continued when Derek Bowens put us back into the lead for the first time since the beginning of the game, and the atmosphere was now electric. The noise and bedlam was intense off the field and on the field this Castlemartyr team were in a zone that they could have only dreamed about. Barry Lawton put us 2 up on the 44th minute,0-18 to 2-10 and when Ollie Smiddy playing a true captains part, raided up the field from half back and stretched the lead to 3, somehow we knew this was going to be our day at long last.

Brian Lawton and Peter Horgan were heroic at midfield at this stage, and our half backline were immense. Castlemartyr were playing all the hurling, hunting in packs and playing as if their very lives depended on it. Jimmy fired over 3 unanswered points from the 52nd to the 55th minute to give us a 6 point lead, even though it was obvious that he was out on his feet. It was a master class from the maestro, and it put us in the unbelievable position of being almost relaxed entering the final stage of the game.

A fine Brian Lawton catch and clearance in the square in the closing stages steadied nervous hearts and the blocking and tackling of the Castlemartyr full backline in the last few minutes, was frightening to watch. “Thou shalt not pass” was clearly the motto of Rob O Donavan and his men, and though Sars threw everything they had at the Reds rearguard, you just knew that the line was not going to be breached anymore.

It was left to Sean Hennessy to put us 7 ahead with 2 minutes on the clock, and though Sars quickly replied to leave it 0-23 to 2-11 there were thankfully to be no further scores. As the Castlemartyr supporters appealed to the ref to blow the full time whistle, he found 4 extra minutes with which to torture us with. But when he finally blew it!!!!!

The scenes were incredible, emotional and almost worth the 45 year wait. The ghost was finally laid to rest and a new generation of heroes could be saluted and feted. The ’64 team, great and all as they were had dined out for far too long on their achievements, and needed to be joined by a new exciting team in the annals of Castlemartyr.

Fittingly Jimmy Smiddy was given the Man of the Match award, and never again will there be a more popular and deserving winner. Although the 16 that played were truly magnificent and gelled superbly as a team, Jimmy Smiddy led the way and put in the best hour of his career, on a day when his team needed him most.

A clearly emotional Ollie Smiddy in his acceptance speech, paid tribute to all the hard work that had gone into this team by several team managers and selectors down throughout the years. But the best cheer of all was reserved for the man who masterminded the whole thing this year, the one and only Seamus “Barney” Lawton. It was obvious that Seamus’ infectious enthusiasm and almost ridiculous faith in his team had rubbed off on the players and how they responded.

The celebrations continued back in Castlemartyr village, when the players and mentors were paraded down the main street on a hastily arranged “float”. The Cobh Pipe Band led the way and the scenes that greeted the players were unforgettable as the joy on the faces of the crowds on the streets was heart-warming. Following the parade there was a reception in the hall where M.C. Cha O Neill introduced Club President Christy O Sullivan, Team Trainer Seamus Lawton and Captain Ollie Smiddy to a huge crowd.

Pride of place went to Paddy Whyte who got a rousing reception as he entered the hall. A proud Castlemartyr man, who was around for all the good days from the 30’s onwards couldn’t have been happier or prouder for the new set of heroes. All in all, the hastily arranged reception in the hall was an unforgettable occasion for all who were there, and showcased all that was good about. Castlemartyr GAA Club.

The cup then made its way to the main club sponsors Clifford’s Bar where a huge crowd that were spilling onto the streets greeted it’s arrival with gusto. A most enjoyable night was had by all, where everyone basked in the glow of the classic match they had witnessed. Finally, it was Castlemartyr’s day in the sun, and boy, it felt good.

Thinking back on that wonderful match a few more things come to mind from a personal point of view. Those involved will never forget Jimmy’s pre match speech, when it was glaringly obvious how much it meant to him, and how it inspired those around him. Of course the comeback after half time when Castlemartyr started like a whirlwind and came with an avalanche of scores was the most inspiring thing I ever saw. Finally the doubters believed as the Red Tide surged forward in wave after wave of attack and realised that this was it, and a lifetimes dream was actually going to materialise

Who can forget either an overwhelmed Cha O Neill gesturing frantically from behind the wire for a sup of water from the bottle, because his voice was gone and he needed to lubricate it some more in order to roar the lads to the finish.

Or an excited Seanie Bowens 5 minutes from the finish. Eyes bulging out of his head in a state of excitement, believing they were going to win, but still afraid that there could be some horrible twist, and bellowing at the backs through the din, not to give away a goal. Seanie toiled a long time to bring a Jamesy back home, but he must be a proud man now, that there are four medals in the house.

So well done to all concerned. A big thank you to the Cobh Pipe Band for leading the victory parade down the street at such short notice. Also thanks to Joe Hennessy, a proud Killeagh man, but also a proud uncle to Seanie on Saturday for his tractor and trailer for the parade. Thanks also to County Sound and Youghal radio, which brought the excitement of the match to those who couldn’t go because of excitement factors etc. I’ve been told the coverage captured the occasion superbly and brought joy to all concerned .Thanks also to Elma and Peader Wade and Martina for opening up the school hall at such short notice and providing teas and sandwiches( courtesy of The Village Greengrocer). It really made the occasion for the all the kids.

But most of all, thanks to Barney and his team for giving us all the best day of our lives .By all accounts the current Jamesy Kelleher Cup is going to be replaced due to the battering it has received down through the years, so it looks like we will get to keep it. Good timing Barney!

TEAM: D.FLEMING, BARRA O TUAMA, R O DONAVAN, J. DEEHAN, O SMIDDY(0-1), B SMIDDY, A BOWENS, BRIAN LAWTON(0-2), P HORGAN, J SMIDDY(0-11, 0-7 frees),S HENNESSY(0-2), D BOWENS (0-1), B LAWTON(0-3), M BOWENS, E O KEEFFE(0-2) SUB USED C BOWENS (0-1). Unused subs. B BARRETT, E CLIFFORD, BRIAN O TUAMA, D MURPHY, D MCAULIFFE, K O LEARY, C MORAN, and DAN BARRY (who now has every medal available at adult level in East Cork. Well done Dan)