Usually in a game as tight as this, there is one significant moment that decides victory.
But yesterday’s Cork senior hurling final didn’t contain such a decisive moment, it was rather a collective surge by Midleton after half-time, one which wasn’t matched by Sarsfields, that drove the Magpies to victory.
Even though every score is important, Midleton’s brace of points in the 53rd and 55th minutes from Conor Lehane and county colleague Luke O’Farrell were truly vital. These scores propelled Midleton into a two-point lead. But these two points — and those two scorers — also illustrated the difference in the teams.
In the first instance Lehane gained possession 50m from the Sars goal and as he sidestepped and danced away from his marker, he was fouled. He nonchalantly struck the free over the bar.
The next score was Midleton at their best. They worked the ball out of defence with short clever play finding impressive midfielder Paul Haughney. Haughney fed O’Farrell, whose pace and positioning caused problems for the Sars defence and he cooly fired over the final point.
Cian McCarthy converted a 65 for Sars with three minutes of normal time left. The white flag was raised indicating a point to leave the minimum between the sides. However after some consultation the ‘point’ was disallowed, forcing Sars to go after a winning goal. Resolute Midleton defending ensured they were not breached in the closing minutes.
With the benefit of hindsight Sars may have been better advised to go for points to level the game rather than trying for a winner, which never looked likely.
Their main attacking tactic was to supply Michael Cussen. He fired home a good goal in the first half when a mix up in the Midleton defence presented the opportunity and he offloaded to the onrushing Cian McCarthy for their second 10 minutes into the second half to tie the game. But from then on, Cussen’s marker Aylwin Kearney, got to grips with the big full forward.
The scores were level five times in the second half but Sars were struggling to a degree as they lacked the necessary pace to trouble the Midleton defence when one or two half-chances were presented. Although Daniel Kearney picked up some good possession and knocked over three good points they were losing the midfield battle to the determined Haughney and Peter Dowling, who grew into the game.
Sars had the option of moving centre half back Eoin Quigley to midfield. Quigley likes to drive forward and he might have provided a more physical challenge in this sector but the sideline didn’t make that change.
His marker Aidan Ryan, who would have played most of his hurling at centre-back, had a very positive influence on this game. Once in possession he made sure he offloaded the ball, mainly with pop passes to colleagues recycling possession to the advantage of his team.
His half-forward colleagues alternated positions for puck-outs and they used the possession gained to turn the screw on the champions. Credit must go to Midleton keeper Tommy Wallace who was clever with his puck-outs. His team won 10 from 12 in the second half, an incredible win ratio. Their defence as a unit, which looked jittery at times when pressurised in the first half, grew as the game went on.
The positioning of sub Cormac Walsh, who replaced Declan Ryan as a fourth half-forward, was never dealt with properly by Sars while the pace of Brian Hartnett and O’Farrell never allowed the Riverstown men settle defensively. Sars’ rhythm wasn’t helped by the amount of blood subs they were forced to make, particularly in the first half. But the day belonged to Conor Lehane who lit up this game with some wonderful scores.
I wrote on Saturday that he was coming into form at the correct time. He gave a display that will be spoken of for years to come.
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