On the way into the match yesterday, I met Mark Landers, who was doing co-commentary for local radio, writes Anthony Daly.
Landers played on the first Imokilly team to win a county title in 1997 and he was telling me about the craic they knocked out of that success, of all the great nights they had across the length and breadth of east Cork.
I’m sure a huge crowd descended on the St Ita’s club and community last night. The cup will tour the barony over the coming days but it must be quiet contentment more than any huge outpouring of emotion. It has to be in this kind of context but beating Middleton – which is in the heart of the division – will have made this the sweetest title Imokilly could ever win.
I still thought the reaction at the final whistle was muted. The scenes after Ballincollig won the Intermediate title beforehand was far more passionate and heartfelt. 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.
I can understand the concept, especially the opportunity it presents to so many players from small Junior and Intermediate clubs. But it almost seems at odds with the whole ideal of a championship that a starting team represented by ten different clubs can be allowed to take on just one club.
The poor record of the divisional sides in the championship proves that the those teams have never exerted any dominance, or consistent level of success in the competition. Neither have the colleges’ sides. UCC’s team this year looked like a near All-Stars outfit but they were taken apart by Imokilly.
UCC weren’t the only side that were taken to school by Imokilly, who won their six championship matches by an aggregate of 70 points. The only team they didn’t whip was Newcestown, who ran them to one point in the quarter-final.
It’s unlikely that the county board would change their structure on the back of one team but this has to be one of the strongest divisional teams ever to win a Cork title. Their forward line is almost an inter-county front six.
It’s frightening to think that Imokilly could afford to leave Deccie Dalton and Ger Millerick on the bench, two starters on the Cork U-21s. What other club outfit in the country could boast that kind of depth?
Imokilly were far stronger and more physically imposing. Sean O’Leary-Hayes, a really good player, tried hard but he just isn’t physically able for Seamus Harnedy at this stage of his career. O’Leary-Hayes will in time but you can’t fast-track time and experience and physicality in the modern game.
Middleton were in trouble all over their defence. Séadnaidh Smyth did make a difference on O’Sullivan when he was switched from the corner but they couldn’t keep putting out the Imokilly t fires raging elsewhere. And Harnedy inflicted most of the damage, burning Middleton with 1-6 from play.
You always felt that Imokilly could get the big scores when they needed them. Paudie’s first goal was an early statement while his second strike arrived at a stage when Middleton had reduced the deficit to two points. When Shane Hegarty scored Imokilly’s fourth goal in the 42ndminute, I wrote on my notepad ‘Game Over’.
Middleton kept going, they kept trying even when the match had long gone from them. Cormac Walsh was excellent, scoring four points from play. Luke O’Farrell tried like a captain should have tried. When O’Farrell had that one-on-one with the keeper just after half-time, he should have buried it but he had Colm Spillane breathing down his neck.
The Imokilly crowd were never going to stir up the kind of passion and fervour that another club could but I still felt the whole thing was a little muted. Everyone had long accepted the inevitability of the outcome before the final whistle and, while I know I’ll be hammered for saying this after all the money they spent doing up the Park, the atmosphere would surely have been a lot better in Pairc Ui Rinn.
It was my first Cork county final since 1995. I was working in the Bank back then. Clare had won the All-Ireland and I was asked to present the man-of-the-match for ‘The little All-Ireland’. Only Cork would give their championship such a name.
Na Piarsaigh won the title that year, defeating Ballyhea in the final. As well as presenting the award, they also asked me to select the man-of-the-match. I gave it to Tony O’Sullivan.
Harnedy was the man yesterday. It was a joy to watch him in full flow. I’m sure it was also some form of compensation for Harnedy and Cooper and Spillane and all the other Cork lads after the devastating loss to Limerick in the All-Ireland semi-final.
I’m sure they had a good night in St Ita’s, or wherever they ended up afterwards. And that they’ll knock plenty more craic out of this in the coming days.
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