Old hat for Rockies, but Cloyne won’t be put off by the occasion

A FIRST-EVER Cork county senior hurling semi-final appearance for Cloyne this Sunday is ironic — given that Christy Ring, the man with the most senior county championships ever in Cork (ever was, ever will be), was a native.

None of those was won with Cloyne, Ring having transferred to Glen Rovers in the city in what was a fairly common occurrence at the time, where he added a senior football medal to the 11 hurling gongs he collected. The Maestro did, however, win a county junior title with Cloyne before his move, in 1939, the year he made his senior inter-county debut, a career that lasted until the mid-60s.

Their opponents? Different story entirely. Old hat for the hurlers of Blackrock, another Cork county senior hurling semi-final, bidding to make another final, add to their roll-topping 32 titles, complete the fourth three-in-a-row in the club’s storied history.

Understandably, the Rockies are hotly fancied, but don’t for a minute think that this one is a foregone conclusion. Though they’ve operated mostly in the shadow of Newtownshandrum, this is a Cloyne team that’s been coming for a number of years. In 1996 they lost the intermediate final to the team from north Cork but didn’t wait too long more for a breakthrough. The goalkeeper on that intermediate-winning team just one year later, and goalkeeper and captain tomorrow, is Donal Óg Cusack, and the current Cork custodian sounds anything but cowed by the prospect of facing those big Blackrock guns.

“The only time tradition counts is when the team that doesn’t have it lets it affect them, that’s the only time it has a bearing on the outcome of a game”, he says, emphatically. The feeling in the team is good, this is where we want to be. No point in being up senior unless you can compete, and we’re competing with the best this Sunday. This is what we want”.

Not that there are no nerves, there are. But Cusack is determined not to let the occasion get to him, get to his team-mates. “You know yourself, it’s a big game, but I’m a firm believer in playing the game, not the occasion. I could give you a load of bullshit about being the small little club taking on the big guns from the city, but I’ve no intention of it. If you’re senior, you must be able to compete and that’s what we intend to do. Take on the champions, that’s it.”

Cusack isn’t blowing smoke here or whistling in the dark. Though they might have surprised a few along the route, Cloyne have earned their way to this stage of the championship, grown with every game since their first-round first-game draw with Ballyhea.

With full-forward Conor Cusack, Donal Óg’s brother, on fire in a four-goal individual performance, they blew Ballyhea away second time out, and since then have gone from strength to strength, culminating in a big win last time out over fancied divisional side Avondhu.

They have the firepower up front, best evidenced by Conor Cusack but with brother Victor also in flying form. Likewise Ian Quinlan, Brian Motherway and Phillip Cahill at midfield. His continued fitness and dedication was proved with a good time in the Dublin City Marathon earlier this year, but it’s in defence that Cloyne are most impressive.

Starting in goal, Cusack isn’t just your standard keeper, he is also a keen student of the game and his clearances and puck-outs are the launch-pads for many a Cloyne attack.

Outside him people might expect to see regular Cork full-back Diarmuid O’Sullivan, but no, Killian Cronin mans that spot and does so exceptionally well.

Eoin and Donal are brothers of ‘the Rock’ himself, whose full range of talents are better used in an exceptional half row. Liam O’Driscoll, Maurice Cahill, Diarmuid O’Sullivan, each an outstanding hurler in his own right but together a line that will take some breaching.

Blackrock too have a superb defence, all six with inter-county experience of one sort or another. Even with the powerful and prolific Alan Browne in attack, however, do they have the firepower to break that Cloyne defence, that half-back line especially?

According to Cusack, Cloyne have trained exceptionally hard for this, the hunger will be there, and they certainly won’t be intimidated. Blackrock coach Timmy Murphy will have his charges well primed against complacency, but even so, it could well be that long-time Cloyne exiles Bernie Aherne and Dinny John Daly will have another day to celebrate in far-off New York.

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