Weary Imokilly made to sweat but Blackrock will regret their wastefulness

In this first hurling final in Páirc Uí Chaoimh Nua, Imokilly were the better side and deserved their win, says Donal O’Grady.

Weary Imokilly made to sweat but Blackrock will regret their wastefulness

Send ‘Em home Sweatin’was a book about the showband era in Ireland, written by Vincent Power. The showbands, who travelled the highways and byways of this country during the 60s, always kept their best ‘til last.The book popped into my mind at the end of the county final between Blackrock and Imokilly. This game failed to catch fire as a contest until the final five minutes. It was by far the best period of the game. It was only then that the fare on the field really engaged the fans, as both sides realised the game was there for the taking.

In this first hurling final in Páirc Uí Chaoimh Nua, Imokilly were the better side and deserved their win. However, there wasn’t much between the sides and the East Cork side will know that they rode their luck on occasion. Their involvement in tough games on a weekly basis over the past month or so denied them proper recovery time. As a result, they were short of the necessary freshness to operate close to their potential in this game.

Brian Lawton opened the scoring for the divisional team in the first minute and although the teams were level on four occasions subsequently, once Imokilly got their noses in front in the 18th minute they stayed ahead from there to the finish. Psychologically, this was an important advantage given they were up against an inexperienced Blackrock 15. This inexperience showed, particularly in front of goal but they will learn a lot from the experience.

Imokilly had conceded 16 goals in the championship. However, they managed to keep a clean sheet on this occasion, though by the skin of their teeth. In times of danger, particularly in the first half, midfielder Mark O’Keeffe dropped deep into his defence to reinforce their defensive set-up while wing forward Brian Lawton supported midfield by dropping deep into his half-back line, making himself available as a safe outlet for passes from his defence.

Ger Mellerick anchored midfield impressively and Imokilly won the midfield battle. Ciarán O’Brien was very tidy in defence and did an amount of covering while Lisgoold’s John Cronin gave a strong display on the other flank.

The defence played as a unit and with extra bodies helping out, invariably there was a covering defender who put pressure on any attacker who threatened the East Cork goal.

Blackrock had 16 puck-outs in the first half, winning 12 — 75% is a huge win ratio. Added to this, 11 restarts from the stick of Gavin Connolly were won on the City side’s half-forward line. This should have led to forward dominance for the Rockies.

However, due to the compact nature of Imokilly’s defence, Blackrock only created one good goal chance in this half. Given their half-forward possession from puck-outs, regularly supplying the dangerous Michael O’Halloran with quality ball should have been the objective. They failed in this regard. He was unlucky in the second half with a fine strike that was narrowly wide, but he was their best hope of the goals they needed.

Two plays on either side of half-time essentially decided this game.

Just before the break, in a well-crafted move of combined play, Blackrock opened up their opponents’ defence. They fed the ball to Ciarán Cormack, unmarked at the edge of the square. But Cormack hurried his attempt when coolness was needed and Imokilly scrambled clear. Significantly, a goal would have tied things up at that point.

Blackrock had played second fiddle during the first half to a wind-assisted Imokilly and going in level at half-time would have been a big psychological boost. The second play involved winning captain Seamie Harnedy, who popped up at the edge of the square to finish a rebound to the net, seconds after the restart. This allowed his team to keep their head above water during a tense second half.

The Rockies will view this final as a lost opportunity. For underdogs to prosper, they must take the big chances to create doubts in the minds of the favourites. Blackrock had a number of good chances to raise a green flag at vital times. Their failure to convert these and poor wides, particularly in the 54th, 55th and 56th minutes, contributed to their defeat.

On Sunday week, Blackrock turn their attention to the Munster Club competition.They have a most difficult assignment against seasoned campaigners and hot favourites Na Piarsaigh of Limerick, who have home venue in the Gaelic Grounds. The Rockies go into this game minus the services of wing forward Shane O’Keeffe, who is pursuing his medical career in Australia. When a team loses a county final the players are naturally ‘down’ for a period. It will be a huge challenge for manager Fergal Ryan and his backroom team to have their squad mentally prepared for this upcoming encounter.

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