Cork Premier IHC final, Kanturk v Mallow: Double dreams in North Cork

Dreaming of the double. And why wouldn’t they? Two steps more and either Kanturk or Mallow will celebrate the most successful year in their club’s respective history.

Mallow's Denis Hayes soars over Cloyne's Ashley Walsh to win possession in last month's Cork PIHC semi-final at Páirc Uí Rinn. Pic: Eddie O'Hare

Come 9pm this evening, though, the double will have packed its bags and vacated one of these north Cork towns. Cavalcades and bonfires will give way to post-mortems.

Mind you, the drowning of sorrows will be brief, attention shifting to a football decider; Premier intermediate for Mallow, intermediate for Kanturk.

Expectation turns to pressure and the possibility of being left empty-handed come the end of October begins to play on the mind.

Bandon and Fermoy met in this very fixture 12 months ago, their stories a carbon copy of this evening’s finalists. What happened thereafter will have been discussed in both camps this week. Bandon won, and a week later added the intermediate football crown. Fermoy retuned to Páirc Uí Rinn the following Sunday chasing redemption. No joy.

“If we win both, they’ll say it can be done. If we lose both, they’ll say it can’t be done,” deadpans Mallow coach Dermot O’Riordan.

The crossover on their side pales in comparison to that of their opponents. From the Mallow team which defeated Cloyne in the semi-final, only Pa Herlihy and Sean Hayes started last weekend’s football semi-final against Bandon.

Fionn O’Neill will be first out of the Mallow dressing room this evening. He’ll take up station at centre-back, Donal Relihan will be at left half-forward. Both played adult football for the club but made the decision a couple of years back to focus exclusively on the small ball. Dreams of a double, they’ll leave to others. Their dream is to play senior hurling.

“I’ve been there 10 or 11 years and I don’t think I’ve missed a match,” says O’Neill.

“I was playing both for a while, but just wanted to give everything to hurling. It is all we do in the summer. There are two small kids at home and you wait until January to take them away [on holidays]. There are a lot of sacrifices that everyone makes. These are the times, then, you have to cherish. It is not every year you can be involved in the last game so there is great excitement.”

Relihan parked the football three years ago. He was into his mid-30s and could no longer commit to both. A choice had to be made.

“You have to be clever. I had to make things easier on myself. I didn’t want to wind up being a sub on both teams.”

1972 was the last occasion Mallow annexed this particular title, albeit there was no ‘premier’ back then. O’Neill’s grandfather, Liam, was playing, his granduncle, Tommy, was captain.

“It would be great if we could emulate the team of ’72,” remarks manager Joe Buckley.

“A club the size of Mallow should be competing in Premier intermediate finals, should probably be up senior,” Relihan adds.

That they’re also contemplating senior hurling up the road in Kanturk tells you of the reversal in fortunes manager Donough Duane has brought about. Duane, captain when they lost the intermediate decider in 2012, was a sub last year. Their opening two matches were lost and a relegation dogfight beckoned.

The three-point win over Tracton in late August marked the end of Johnny Crowley’s reign as manager. Sars Johnny, not former Cork hurler Johnny.

A couple of league games cropped up later in the year that required fulfilling and club officers asked Duane if he’d take charge.

He’d been contemplating retirement alright. Management, though, wasn’t on his radar. Well, maybe the U8s, but certainly not the top team in Kanturk.

“We did okay in those few games and the lads responded well. They approached the chairman and secretary saying, ‘would I be interested in doing it this year’. I thought about it for a while and said yes, but only on the agreement that I could bring someone in who had a bit of experience. Jim McCarthy from Glen Rovers is his name and he’s been a massive help in the coaching department.”

Why Duane took up the position is rather simple. Kanturk have two hurlers on the Cork panel at present. They are Lorcán McLoughlin and Anthony Nash. Aidan Walsh was also part of the set-up before returning to the football camp. Then there’s Darren Brown, Cork U21 captain this year. They’ve never had such high-profile talent at their disposal.

“I’ve played with them, I know the quality that is there. Definitely, this is the best crop Kanturk has ever seen. It is the most successful year we’ve ever had. They know themselves they have a huge opportunity on Saturday. They know, as a group, they are good enough to take on this challenge.”

Eleven of the starting team from the semi-final win over Ballinhassig featured for the footballers during their quarter and semi-final victories over the past fortnight. Earlier on in the year, they had five starters on the Duhallow football team — Mark Healy, Lorcan O’Neill, John McLoughlin, and the Walshs, Aidan and Paul.

Once the Cork hurlers were eliminated, Duane knew they’d be busy enough with club duties without trying to serve the division as well. This was relayed to them, although the manager is keen to stress that the final decision was left to the players.

Come Duhallow’s quarter-final against Valley Rovers, only John McLoughlin, from this quintet, togged.

“Momentum is a huge thing at this level and the entire squad has taken confidence from winning every weekend, irrespective of the code. They’ve been excellent in keeping themselves sharp. Hopefully, they can go and get the job done now.”

Dreaming of the double.

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