You can go back to the glory days of the Cork senior hurling final when the big three dominated, crowds of over 30,000 turning up to see the great players in what Cork people called ‘the little All-Ireland’.
Without doubt the physical exchanges in those games were a lot harder than today, the hurling a lot tougher, some defenders of the era believing a fella might look better without a head.
You’ll still get people in Cork who’ll eulogise about that period, how brilliant it was, the great Christy Ring at the heart of many of those stories.
I didn’t see those games but I was in Páirc Uí Chaoimh yesterday and I’ll safely say this — if there was ever a better individual performance in a county final than Conor Lehane gave for Midleton yesterday, then those who saw it were truly blessed.
It wasn’t just the 2-10 he got, it was the quality of those scores, one better than the next, most of those from play. He dominated the game, owned it from start to finish, did it on the day that most mattered.
A county final with your club, a first county title in over 20 years — in fact when Midleton last won it, in 1991, Conor wasn’t even born.
Hard to believe he’s still only 21.
What must also be taken into consideration in Conor’s display is the weather. It wasn’t until we went down onto the pitch afterwards we realised how bad it was, heavy rain, greasy surface. And still he produced a performance like that. Fantastic.
To the game itself, and of course this wasn’t a one-man show.
What most impressed me about Midleton was their hunger, their desire.
They were going to make things happen rather than just waiting, which is what it looked to me like Sars were doing.
Everyone was prepared to fight for the hard ball and on a day like this, there was a lot of hard ball.
The Midleton defence was outstanding, wing-back James Nagle especially. He got sent off eventually, two yellow cards, and that’s something he’ll have to look out for.
The first was for throwing away an opponent’s hurley, really silly, the second less so, fouling Gavin O’Loughlin as he broke through on goal.
The young O’Mahony cousins also did very well, Patrick and Finbarr, and it was on that defence the Sarsfields attack perished.
In midfield Paul Haughney was outstanding, hit a lot of ball; if he sorts out his shooting he’ll be the complete package.
Alongside him the former O’Loughlin Gaels player, Peter Dowling, was a real workhorse, in the final quarter especially, though he was lucky to be still on the field at that stage, should have got a yellow card — his second — for a high and dangerous tackles on Daniel Kearney.
Luke O’Farrell got three fine points from play, worked extremely hard, but his concentration needs to be better, several balls dropped. Still, he showed good leadership, never stopped presenting himself as a target. It wasn’t all Midleton of course. This Sarsfields team that has won three of the last five Cork titles and they didn’t let go without a fight. Question though — why didn’t they put a man-marker on Lehane, long flagged as Midleton’s most dangerous attacker? They needed someone who can run, who can hurl, who could have stayed with him and at least curtailed him somewhat. Instead Conor was allowed roam as he pleased, taking up any position he fancied.
Dan Kearney impressed in the middle, three fine points, but can take too much out of the ball, runs into trouble, too slow at times in delivering the ball to his forwards.
Cian McCarthy showed well but as a current Cork panellist you’d have expected more from him. I’d say the same about Michael Cussen. Michael scored 1-1, made the second goal, but for a man of his size and ability you’d expect a lot more — he needs to put in a full 60 minutes and he needs to be a lot more aggressive.
To finish, I met the Midleton great John Fenton about four years ago at a Cork relegation game, against Carrigtwohill. Since then Carrigtwohill won a county senior title, 2011, now Midleton have won theirs. What a difference a few years makes!
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved