When I travelled to last year’s Cork county final, I felt right at home when I saw the black and white flags and the huge swell of Midleton support. The colours are the same as our own in Clarecastle and, like ourselves, are nicknamed the the ‘Magpies’. Every club has their own sense of identity, their own brand almost, and I could feel that pride all around Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
The place was buzzing by the time I arrived because the intermediate final curtain-raiser between Ballincollig and Blackrock was really in the melting pot. Ballincollig’s joy at winning a first title in 19 years neatly teed up the atmosphere for such an eagerly anticipated derby final between Midleton and Imokilly, particularly when Midleton is the main town in the east Cork division, but it didn’t take long for the fizz to fade away.
Imokilly were on another level that afternoon but the whole event, for me personally as a neutral observer, was flat and vacant. The reaction at the final whistle was muted. The game being over with 20 minutes to go probably contributed to that atmosphere but I found it stranger again considering this was supposed to be the mother and father of all east-Cork derbies.
All I saw was pockets of supporters from individual clubs celebrating the success of their guy, or guys, rather than the success of one actual team. A host of jerseys from east Cork clubs were dotted around the stand but I don’t think I saw one actual red and white striped Imokilly jersey.
A divisional jersey probably doesn’t exist for a parent to buy their kid but that’s not the point — the whole thing lacked identity. I just didn’t get that passionate and heartfelt sense of emotion that was evident after Ballincollig won the intermediate title.
Maybe I’m being unfair to Imokilly, and particularly such a brilliant team. As someone who has no experience of divisional outfits — we’ve had amalgamations but we’ve never had divisional teams in Clare — it’s very hard to get your head around them. It would be even weird to imagine a host of Clare clubs taking on just one team.
We, Clarecastle, lost the Minor A final to Corofin-Ruan last Sunday. They were an excellent team, who have combined really well to win an U16A last year and a first Minor A this year. You’d admire Corofin-Ruan for how well they’ve combined the two clubs, and for having the ambition to go after A titles.
Some in Clare might argue that two B sides shouldn’t be amalgamated but I’ve no problem with that. Yet I would have a problem if Clarecastle were beaten by an amalgamation of more than two clubs. To me, then the balance is wrong. I appreciate that the culture is different in Cork, that the size of the place facilitates divisional sides.
It’s not as if the divisions have been dominating championships. Imokilly may be weaker again next year when losing the players from Fr O’Neill’s and Cloyne. But will they? Declan Dalton and Ger Millerick were only subs for the county final last year.
Imokilly are so strong at the moment that they’ve players coming out of the woodwork. Shane O’Regan Óg only came on in the semi-final against the Barrs. In Clarecastle, we’re almost counting down the days until Cian Galvin, this year’s Clare minor captain, will be eligible to play senior next year. If we had a county U-20 player of O’Regan’s class, he’d be one of our best players.
You could argue that the critics have only started kicking up since Imokilly started taking over, or threatened to take over. You have strong divisional teams in Kerry too but Dr Crokes seem able to beat them most years now.
Still, there’s bound to be some tension with that kind of potential dominance from a divisional side and it was ironic that the Glen were the loudest voice leading the opposition at last year’s county convention. The motion to remove the divisions from the championship was blown out of the water and, while the Glen will use that as more fuel on their fire now, that could work in Imokilly’s favour too.
They may be thinking ‘We’ll shut this crowd up for once and for all’. Imokilly have the firepower to ram it down the Glen’s throats.
Seamus Harnedy, Dalton and Brian Lawton have been on fire up front. Paudie O’Sullivan is always dangerous too. Harnedy rightly gets most of the plaudits because he’s Imokilly’s captain, leader and best player, but Dalton has certainly given Harnedy a run for his money this season.
When I first saw Dalton up close as a minor with Cork — he played as a goalkeeper against the Limerick minors in 2015 — he had great hands but he looked to be almost over-confident. You want to promote confidence but there is a difference between confidence and over-confidence. That made me, possibly unfairly, question Dalton, especially when he was struggling to make it as an outfield player with Cork.
But he has every right now to stick his chest out because he has developed into a class player. He has come of age for Imokilly and Fr O’Neill’s this year and I’ve no doubt that Kieran Kingston will be looking at him closely for Cork in 2020.
Unless Patrick Horgan can hit a uniquely ‘Hoggy’ day and land around 2-10 — which he is more than capable of doing — it’s hard to see how the Glen can match Imokilly’s firepower. To be fair to Hoggy, the longer the year goes on too, the less impact a guy like him may have because he’s a real top-of-the-ground thoroughbred.
Plus, I’m sure Imokilly have a plan for Hoggy where he may be double-teamed any time the ball comes near him. It’s never easy to do three-in-row but Imokilly certainly have that elusive target within their grasp. And if they do, I’m sure this debate will be questioned and discussed by far more people than just me.