Captain Chris leading by example
MALLOW. Kanturk. Newmarket. Rockchapel.
Over the mountains. Twists and turns. Narrow roads. Country lanes more like. Hail. Wind. Rain. The occasional blue sky.
All familiar to Chris Allen. A teacher in Clonmel. A resident of Cork and a native of Lixnaw. Finuge's football captain and committed football man. An average week could see him travel as many as 900 miles over some of the worst roads in the province and all for love of the game. Training during the week. Weekend football. Spare evenings early in the week spent in recovery, stretching, limbering out, getting ready for what's to come, planning the week ahead.
Right now, with victory after victory coming Finuge's way, that sacrifice has been more than worth it. It didn't always feel that way. In the years since their victory in the All Ireland Junior Club Final Finuge have been through their very own school of hard knocks. Narrow defeat one year was followed by narrow defeat the year after.
"Back around 2008 / 2009 after those one point losses – Foilmore beat us by a point in the semi-final, Ardfert beat us by a point in the semi-final, losing to Gneeveguilla by a point – it is disheartening after those times," Allen recalls.
"I just thought about myself, is it worth travelling up and down? Clubs in Tipperary were saying to me 'wouldn't you move up there and save yourself the driving', but I just thought there's something in this team and look here we are."
And if things go Finuge's way just think where Allen could yet find himself – the Hogan Stand collecting the club's second ever All Ireland club title, their first at intermediate level. It was around this time last year that he got the call to serve. On a cold February night training session he was called into a room by co-manager John Coleman. The proposition was put to him: the management wanted him as captain for the coming season.
"I was flabbergasted," Allen says.
"I never considered myself a person who would be captain or a leader of the team, but look I took the opportunity. It's a great opportunity. I'm honoured for myself, for my family to be considered as somebody who can go out and represent the team as the captain."
Watching him play every championship game for Finuge in the last twelve months it's clear why he was chosen. He's clever and articulate. He commands the respect of his team mates through his unstinting commitment to the cause and his metronomic consistency. As captain he's the leader of this team. If only one of many in the team as a whole as he admits.
"Everyone, we all have something to contribute to the team," the thirty year old says.
"Even some of the younger fellas if they're out in training and something doesn't go right we'll discuss it with the next fella and bring it to the manager or the manager will come in and tell to us about a few things we could improve, but look Eamonn [Fitzmaurice], Paul [Galvin], Maurice Corridan these are all fellas who have worn the green and gold jersey. You've got Mike Conway and James Flaherty with hurling experience.
"They're playing with teams that have won a lot of things and they bring that back to the club football."
Christy Ring hurling. Inter-county football. Fingue draw on all their experience. All their training. In co-managers John Colbert and John Colbert they've got some serious football men on the line too. Tactically minded men. Men who have devised game plans to frustrate opponents and to give Finuge the best chance of playing to their strengths. Finuge are a side that thinks tactically. A side which has a game plan and sticks to it.
"Every game is different you have to play to whatever team is in front of you," Allen says when considering his managers' tactical approach to games.
"Some days you set up differently, it depends on the forward line [if they're] very fast, high scoring, if they've got good fellas around the middle of the field, if their backs are going to be on top, maybe their full-back line you have to look at that, look at being more patient, shooting from distance and so on. We set out our stall and John can't do much about it then, we have to adjust and follow to which way the game is developing out on the field."
There have been times this year when they've had to think on their feet on the pitch. Like when Spa looked to have the County Championship wrapped up going down the back straight. It caused Allen to think, to wonder, to worry whether this was to be their lot again – defeated, narrowly, with their goal so close at hand. They refused to give in, they dug deep, they battled back and defeated the former All Ireland finalists after a replay.
This Finuge side are made of sterner stuff. Maybe it's a North Kerry thing. Anybody who's ever seen a game in the North Kerry championship will attest to the grit and determination that's required to succeed in the north of the county. It has led Finuge to be pegged, unfairly perhaps, as little more than a team of hard men, a physcial side that uses as much brawn as brain. It's a perception that rankles.
"I don't think Finuge get enough credit that they deserve from people," Allen says.
"There's a lot of negativity towards Finuge throughout the county. We're from North Kerry and sure they're only tough above there, no real skill or football. I hope we're after putting the headlines out there that we can play football, that we'll stand up and represent Kerry and that we're from North Kerry and we're proud of it. Hopefully we'll drive on now and win it. We deserve the next day in Croke Park. It's where we want to be."
Having been to hell and back to get there – and the byroads of Duhallow – you'd better believe that Chris Allen and his Finuge side will give it their all once they get there.
Afterall that's how they got there in the first place.