Big day regrets still haunting Mourneabbey footballers

It’s not the loss of three All-Ireland finals in four years that gnaws away at the footballers of Mourneabbey, but rather the sinking feeling in the pit of their stomach that they didn’t perform in any of those three games.

When Shane Ronayne came in as Mourneabbey manager five years ago, players and the new management gathered for a meeting in the clubhouse ahead of the 2014 season. Róisín O’Sullivan, among the more experienced members of the set-up having been part of the 2005 and 2007 All-Ireland junior and intermediate club final victories, remembers Ronayne asking the group how their rival clubs in Cork would describe them.

O’Sullivan didn’t need to give the question much thought. She knew exactly what the answer was.

Mourneabbey’s Eimear Meaney cuts a dejected figure after losing the 2017 All-Ireland Senior Club final to Carnacon. Picture: Inpho/Oisin Keniry

“At that stage, we hadn’t won anything at senior level. We had made absolutely no dent at senior level. One of the words that were put up was potential, that we thought people would look in at us and say, they had potential but had never fulfilled it.”

Of course, all that has since changed on the county and provincial fronts. Hard-fought victories over West Cork, after a replay, and Ballymacarbry of Waterford in recent months delivered the club a five-in-a-row in both Cork and Munster.

Where their potential remains unfulfilled is on All-Ireland final day. Ahead at half-time against Termon and Donaghmoyne in 2014 and 2015, Ronayne’s troops failed to kick on in either game. It was an altogether different story this time last year as the Cork outfit managed only five points in the opening 43 minutes, by which stage they found themselves eight adrift of Carnacon. Their late drive for the line came, well, too late.

“I don’t mean this to come across as disrespectful to the teams we have lost to in the three finals but we would feel that we haven’t reached our potential. For whatever reason that is, we haven’t pinpointed it,” O’Sullivan continued.

The most upsetting thing was that we have come home after each final defeat and the next day have woken up with the overriding feeling of I’d love to play it all over again and reach our potential.

Ask the centre-back which of the three reverses sticks most in the craw and she harks back to the 2014 final, their first, against Termon of Donegal. Leading by 0-10 to 1-3 at the break, the feeling was that Mourneabbey’s greater array of threats would win the day.

Termon had one threat. Her name was Geraldine McLaughlin. She finished that game in Tuam Stadium with 3-8 beside her name; Termon the new All-Ireland champions.

“We just couldn’t get to grips with one player, which is terribly frustrating. That’s frustrating that there were six backs and yet one forward ran through us. I find that one particularly tough. Maybe it hurts for me because I am a back and was in the defence that day and she was able to open us up so much.”

The same question is put to captain and midfielder Bríd O’Sullivan.

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“Last year was the most disappointing. We didn’t do ourselves justice on the day. We really played into Carnacon’s hands, especially in the second-half. That fear of losing came into it again.”

With Róisín, it is potential unfulfilled. For Bríd, it is business unfinished.

“People ask what keeps you coming back every year. It is obvious really when you think about it. This is something that has started to hang over our heads at this stage. Obviously, the last five years have been amazing and we have had major success. But this is the only piece of silverware we are missing,” remarks the secondary school teacher at St Mary’s Mallow.

Irrespective of how this evening pans out, the Mourneabbey players will be back together on December 21 for another special occasion, as Róisín swaps ball and pitch for bouquet and church.

“Ciara (sister) and I were in the jewellery shop recently and this man asked when was the big day. Ciara was just about to reply, December 8, when I cut across her and was like, I think he means my wedding. The match is keeping me occupied from wedding stuff for the moment and we’ll concentrate on that after the match.”

What a day it would be were the Delores Tyrrell Cup to sit on the top table for the reception.

“Hopefully, hopefully.”