JOHN CLEARY (Former Cork footballer)
In the early 1970s John Cleary's father brought him down to the Castlehaven GAA grounds for under 12 training; he loved it and from that day on he was hooked. His father was a Mayo man, a garda who had moved to the west Cork village for work and football was in his blood.
Luckily for Cleary, Castlehaven had a very good underage set-up and his arrival on the scene coincided with a crop of good young players starting their football careers including Niall Cahalane, Michael Maguire and Michael Burns. Almost immediately the team started winning, first the under 12 and under 14 West Cork championship and a county under 16 title too. Then in 1981 they won an under 21 Cork county title and two years later they repeated that feat.
"Winning underage is very beneficial for players," explains Cleary. "We had success and that helped us when we went senior, especially the under 16 and the under 21. We ended up playing against the same players at senior level and these were players we'd beaten along the way so that gave us confidence. I don't think we'd have had the same confidence if we'd been beaten continuously."
It took a few years for Cleary and Co to get their hands on the county senior title but in 1989 they got there, winning a Munster final too. That same year Cleary won an All-Ireland title with Cork making it a very special year for him indeed.
His career with the Cork seniors began in 1983 and lasted a decade. After his retirement, he went on to win another county title with Castlehaven in 1994 and two Munster club titles. Although Castlehaven lost the 1997 county final, they were beaten by a divisional side so they progressed to the Munster championship. After Cleary retired from football he became involved in coaching, first with the club and then with the Cork under 21s who he still manages. He is also a selector with the Castlehaven team who are playing Dr Crokes today in the Munster club football final.
"Obviously Dr Crokes are going to be hot favourites, they are going for their third consecutive Munster title. But I know when our guys get out there they will give it 100 per cent. I don't think any of our lads will be found wanting, whether we are good enough or not that's another thing. I think it will be closer than people think."