Last year was an historic one for Adare GAA Club. We lost our Senior Football status for the first time since 2001. We also lost our prestigious title of being one of two dual senior clubs in the county. Thankfully, the young men of our village restored pride before the year was out.
The Adare under 21 footballers had their first get together on October 2nd. James Hickey was manager for the year. He had Fionan Kelliher, Mikey Lyons and Diarmuid Sexton as selectors. They all knew the bountiful potential of the players at their disposal. They knew that the sky was the limit for this team if they believed in themselves; if they believed they were good enough to beat the likes of Monaleen, Fr. Casey and Newcastlewest. They also needed to make use of every available player.
Jody Hannon put the hurl down for a couple of months to play an influential role at full back while Charlie McCarthy was a battering ram at midfield having not played football in a number of years. Shane Costelloe came back from Limerick FC after their season ended - a gaelic footballer of incredible pace and skill. David O'Mahony did not step over the threshold this year as he was contracted to Munster Rugby but we're working on getting him back for next year!
These lads bolstered what was an already developed and formidable team from the previous year - with the likes of Hugh and Robbie Bourke, Jack English, Michael Mulvihill, Eoin Ryan, Paul Maher, Eoghan Costello, Oran Collins, David Connolly and Davey Lyons starring for the Seniors throughout in the season. Unfortunately, we lost the talented Mark Connolly to a cruciate ligament injury sustained in August. No doubt he'll be back for next years championship as brilliant and bright as ever, and maybe with a few more guitar songs learned from his time off! Conor O'Farrely was man of the match in our opening game and was having a great season until he broke his hand in training prior to the quarter final. Conor Ryan selflessly moved from cornerback to goalkeeper to fill the void. His performances at cornerback had been top notch but he somehow managed to eclipse these with stellar performance between the posts - most notably in the final when he kept us in the game with a point blank stop. David O'Connor also returned from injury for the semi-final and final - putting in an incredibly composed performance worthy of man of the match in the final
We commenced the championship against Bruff in Croom. It was a cold, wet, wintery Sunday morning; by all standards, an atrocious day for football. We defended like dogs in the first half against the howling wind and rain. When we turned around at halftime, the lads stepped up a gear immediately. We broke with speed and precision from defence, delivering quick ball to the forwards who took their chances confidently. As we extended our lead, Bruff found an extra gear and tried to stage a comeback but our defence stood tall with our goalkeeper Conor O'Farrelly making some fantastic saves. The tough conditions and hard fought nature of this gave the team great spirit and morale.
Our next game was against near rivals, Rathkeale Cappagh, one of the favourites for the competition. We knew we'd have to be on top of our game to come away with a victory. We started the game as we left off against Bruff and got an early goal which put us in a great position. Rathkeale refocused and organised the effective defensive game they play which enabled them to close the attacking channels and turn over a lot of possession. At the 60 minute mark, Rathkeale were three points to the good and pulled away for victory with five points scored in injury time as we tried to create openings of our own. As a panel, we took a lot of positives from this game. We never stopped working for each other or trying to do the right thing while in possession. Even though it was hard to penetrate the system Rathkeale employed we kept going again and again. Even though this was a setback, we knew we were far from out of the competition.
The final group game was against Monaleen. It was a must-win game with the winner qualifying for the quarter finals. After a lengthy wait for the dressing rooms to be opened and a very brief five minute warm up, the game was on. We started at a pace Monaleen couldn't handle and took a commanding lead of 4 points to 1 into a strong gale and this proved to be the foundation on which the victory was built. We led 5 points to 4 at halftime. However, upon resumption and with the wind at our backs we struggled to put daylight between the teams. Monaleen were growing in confidence and the game was in the melting pot until Davey Lyons got dragged to the ground 15 minutes into the second half. He converted the resulting penalty to give us a 5 point lead. Shortly afterwards, Shane Costelloe blasted the ball home from close range to put us 8 points clear. It was a very assured performance overall and we ran out worthy winners.
Approaching this game and listening to the hype about Newcastlewest, it seemed like a mammoth, possibly insurmountable task. Newcastlewest were reigning Senior, U21 and Minor County Champions. It was David and Goliath according to anybody and everybody and we were David. It felt like it was going to be a rerun of the original Mighty Ducks and we were playing the Hawks in the State Pee Wee Championship Final with Charlie McCarthy and Jack English being the real life incarnation of the bash brothers! However, our lads had different ideas. With goals from Shane O'Connor and Robbie Bourke we led by 8 points going in at halftime. This was the first time the players themselves realised how good they were and could be. Playing against the wind in the second half, we knew we'd have our backs to the wall. We defended with everything we had - players tracked, harried, hassled and fought for everything, never giving Newcastlewest a chance to close the gap. We tacked on some great points from Shane Costelloe and Hugh Bourke and these truly sealed victory. This game was a big step for everyone involved.
These games are only there to be won, no matter how, and we were fully focused on the task at hand. Oola had a facile win in their quarter final, putting up a big score which showed they would be no pushover. We wanted to come out all guns blazing and set a marker. We started as planned, scoring point after point while also displaying the intensity which was a feature of our game all year. We raced into a 0-06 to 0-00 lead while also being unfortunate with a couple of goal chances and entered halftime 5 points to the good. As is the norm, every team gets a ‘purple patch’ and Oola came out for the second half a different team, scoring two early goals which turned the game on its head. Our lads never panicked though, and once we gathered our composure we started to add some more points and make our presence felt again. We won with the narrowest of victories for a finish, but it was another experience which enhanced our confidence and the team's character.
This game was played just 5 days short of Christmas. We all hoped Santa would come early and we suspected he might with the way our lads were knuckling down for this game! On what was a perfect day for football in the Gaelic Grounds, this great bunch of young men made history. This was a tight and tense affair. Adare had much of the possession in the opening half but Na Piarsaigh looked dangerous as they attacked with pace, power and precision anytime they turned the ball over. Conor Ryan stopped what seemed a certain goal in the latter part of the half however we still trailed by a solitary point at the interval - 0-7 to 0-8. Playing into the town end in the second half we took the lead thanks to well crafted goal by Shane O'Connor. Two more inspirational points from our powerful half back Jack English gave us a three point lead. However, with 3 minutes on the clock Na Piarsaigh had levelled it up after a period of dominance which saw them score two from play and convert a long range free. Na Piarsaigh had all the momentum. Such was the character of this team, as we'd seen all season, they turned the tide. Davey Lyons won the ball from two Na Piarsaigh defenders in the corner of the pitch and then split the posts with a kick off the outside of his right boot from under the Mackey Stand. It was a moment that every Adare man, woman, and child in the stand will never forget. It was a kick worthy of winning any County Championship, or All-Ireland Championship for that matter. Na Piarsaigh were rattled and immediately conceded another free on the 45 yard line. Davey Lyons stepped up, and again, with the outside of his right boot, craftily lofted it straight between the posts.
These lads made history in what was an otherwise tough and unsuccessful year for the club. They are a beacon of light and inspiration to the whole club and village. They took a seemingly insurmountable challenge and met it head on - game by game like the celtic warriors that they are. They displayed grit, determination and pride all the while honing their team play and skills to overcome whatever was thrown at them.
The year will be remembered fondly by all in the club for the valiant and joyous performances by this group of footballing pioneers and Adare legends!
Áth Dara Abú