Sarsfields illustrated why they are regarded as one of the front-runners for this year’s Cork SHC after carving out a deserved, but hard-fought victory over Cloyne in their opening bout on Saturday evening.
And ‘bout’ is probably the appropriate word too, for against Cloyne’s band of harriers, Sarsfields had to use all the experience that saw them garner county titles in 2008 and ’10 to eventually see off the most dogged and determined of opponents.
Little wonder their manager, and former Cork star Pat Ryan, was so relieved at the final whistle, with an eight-point win probably even a touch flattering for his side.
"Ah it was a typical first round game," offered Ryan.
"Cloyne were short a good few but we knew they’d battle. They’ve a number of youngsters that they’re blooding, having lost some great players like Maurice Cahill and Philip Cahill. We knew it would be tough but it’s great to get over the first round."
Cloyne, having reached consecutive finals between 2004 and 2006, are a side in transition, but still have plenty thread left on the tyre; and though well documented was the loss of Donal Óg Cusack as well as influential defenders Killian Cronin and Eoin O’Sullivan, they’re far from a spent force.
Allied to those absentees was the late withdrawal of their marquee forward Paudie O’Sullivan after pulling a muscle in his back last week.
However, he is expected to be fit in time for their back door game against Killeagh in two weeks.
Not taking away from Sarsfields, they are a strong force when they play their crisp, first-time, instinctive brand of hurling and in Mediterranean conditions in Midleton, their style is easy on the eye when it works.
But they only showed glimpses of their potential and in his post-match appraisal, Ryan supposed they should’ve played at a higher tempo.
"We probably slowed up the game a small bit and we want to play a fast game but we didn’t do that tonight as well as we can but at times we put in good performances," he said.
Indeed, slowing the game played perfectly into Cloyne’s hands as their physicality and suffocating pressure-game was exactly what Ryan was referring to.
In the opening half alone, Sars shot eight wides, half of those trickling wide from long range efforts but with such strict marshalling by the Cloyne rearguard, those were arguably the only options.
With an embarrassment of riches, particularly in attack, it was a frustrating opening half for the talented Cian McCarthy in particular who had a right battle with Diarmuid O’Sullivan — deployed to the edge of the square to mark the Sars’ talisman.
Others to stand out for the Riverstown club were midfielder Daniel Kearney who notched four brilliant points and illustrated just why he has been drafted into the county panel, while Joe Barry at full-back was neat and tidy — his battle with Conor Cusack one of the duels of the night.
At half-time, Sars led 1-7 to 0-5, with three placed balls from McCarthy but his goal on 30 minutes, orchestrated by Wexford’s Eoin Quigley, was of the highest class and put some daylight between them. They could have had another a minute later only they overplayed it when Kearney released Eoin O’Sullivan. But the sight of rampaging Sully was enough to deter the latter from going for it.
The second-half saw Sars extend their lead to seven when Cian McCarthy landed two frees but Cork minor Dillon Cahill kept Cloyne in touch with some adroit free-taking of his own.
And just when it seemed Sars would pull away, the impressive Keith Dennehy- the team mascot for their county final appearances in 2004-’06 and whose granduncle was Christy Ring, hammered home a stunning goal to trim the margin back to four with 10 minutes to go.
Kearney and Cahill traded points, as did Conor Cusack and Michael Cussen but McCarthy and Kearney closed out the game with late scores.
Scorers for Sarsfields: C McCarthy 1-9 (7fs, 1 65), D Kearney 0-4, M Cussen 0-2, G O’Loughlin, E Quigley, T Óg Murphy 0-1 each.
Scorers for Cloyne: D Cahill 0-8 (7fs, 1 65), K Dennehy 1-0, C Smith, C Cusack 0-1 each.
SARSFIELDS: A Kennedy; D Kenneally, J Barry, C O’Sullivan; E Martin, R Ryan, C Leahy; D Kearney, E Quigley; M Cussen, K Murphy, G O’Loughlin; T Óg Murphy, C McCarthy, E O’Sullivan.
CLOYNE: A Walsh; B Fleming, Diarmuid O’Sullivan, B McCarthy; J Nyhan, Donal O’Sullivan, P O’Sullivan; J Cotter, D Cahill; K Dennehy, C O’Sullivan, C O’Lomasney; C Smith, c Cusack, M Walsh.
Subs: C Mullins for M Walsh (46), V Cusack for J Cotter inj. (53).
Referee: Conor Lane (Banteer)