Given little chance against the defending champions, who were going for their third title in a row, Midleton showed resilience in recovering from a five-point half-time deficit to fashion an exhilarating victory.
Recent Harty Cup finals have been very one-sided affairs and there were fears this decider was heading along similar lines after Flannan’s rattled over nine points without reply in the first half as the east Cork side failed to score for 23 minutes.
However, in a thrill-a-minute second half, Midleton, aided by a fortuitous goal from a 20-metre free by Evan O’Keeffe in the 38th minute, sparked off an incredible recovery.
The principal difference between the teams was Midleton’s ability to score goals. In a team of heroes, Midleton will forever be grateful for the brilliance of centre-forward Robert White, who was pitted against Seamus Hickey, who played in last year’s minor All-Ireland final with Limerick.
Early in the game it looked as if Hickey was again going to be the dominant player for the defending champions. But White rose to the challenge, rifling over five magnificent points in the second-half which forced Hickey to be switched off the rampant Midleton centre-forward.
Team captain Paudie O’Sullivan, younger brother of Cork senior Diarmuid - Diarmuid a member of the last Midleton team to win the Harty back in 1995 - was another who had a storming match, while goalkeeper Ciaran Cronin, whose huge puck-outs in the second half were landing on the Flannan’s 45-metre line, made one magnificent and crucial save late in the first-half.
Flannan’s lost no caste in defeat. They looked likely winners, despite falling a goal behind in the 10th minute when Luke O’Farrell blasted home from Darragh Aherne’s pass. The former champions hit back strongly with nine unanswered points to lead 0-9 to 1-1 at half time, and it looked a case of just playing steadily for the next 30 minutes for a 22nd title.
Midleton mentor Seamus Murphy admitted that he thought the game was gone from his side at that juncture. “Flannan’s did all the hurling in the opening half and we were struggling. However, the lads showed amazing resolve on the changeover, got a couple of early scores and when the goal went in off the free, it gave us the momentum to go on and win.
“The turning point was Even O’Keeffe’s goal. We were in need of scores at the time and that goal gave us a massive lift. From there to the finish we saw the true character of our players. They were simply magnificent and deserved their success.”
Midleton had wind advantage in the second half and wasted little time in whittling down the lead. Inspired by Paudie O’Sullivan and with White thundering to the game, the east Cork school were level by the end of the third quarter, helped in no small way by O’Keeffe’s goal.
It was backs to the wall defending by Flannan’s as Midleton came in waves, though a point by Mark Earley gave the Ennis college the lead to ease the pressure. The excitement became unbearable as White hit three magnificent points in a row, but the Midleton lead was back to one after Seamus Hickey landed a point with two minutes left.
Like true champions, Flannan’s came again but Conor Nealon fired wide before Evan O’Keeffe’s injury-time point set in train incredible scenes of jubilation as Midleton supporters swarmed acclaimed their heroes.
: Midleton CBS: R. White 0-5 (0-2 frees); E. O’Keeffe 1-1 (1-0 free); L. O’Farrell 1-0; B. Lawton, P. O’Sullivan (free) 0-1 each. St Flannan’s: C. Tierney 0-3 (frees); D. Ryan 0-2 (65s); R. Horan 0-2; C. Nealon, S. Stack, C. Madden, M., Earley, S. Hickey 0-1 each.
: C. Cronin; C. Fogarty, A. Kearney, A. Walsh; S. Murphy, P. O’Sullivan, P. O’Shea; B. Lawton, J. Keane; E. O’Keeffe, R. White, E. Walsh; D. Aherne, L. O’Farrell, F. Day. Sub: P. Haughney for Walsh.
: D. Tuohy; C. O’Doherty, C. Cooney, S. O’Reagan; D. Ryan, S. Hickey, E. Glynn; E. Barrett, M. Earley; D. Stack, C. Madden, J. Neylon; D. Tierney, R. Horan, C. Nealon. Sub: J. Conlon for D. Ryan.
: M. O’Connor (Limerick).