The east Cork men have enjoyed the upper hand in clashes between this pair in recent years but this game flew in the face of recent trends. Instead of eking out a tight victory over the city team, Aghada had a handsome advantage at the final whistle.
They were full value for the ultimate nine-point success, leading by six points at the interval after a wind-assisted first-half and then displaying the ruthlessness thereafter to press home their advantage.
Aghada’s summer was a short-lived one last year as they exited the championship in the third round. Losing at that stage to eventual county champions Clonakilty in a replay after letting a lead slip late on in the drawn game stirred up a well of regrets and they played with a great sense of purpose from throw-in last night.
The tone was set after just thirty seconds when Pearse O’Neill galloped through the Na Piarsaigh rearguard for a rousing point off his left. O’Neill, showing no ill-effects after being absent recently with a broken thumb, and his Cork senior colleague Kieran O’Connor played hugely important roles, and manager Denis Healy complemented their inputs afterwards.
“It was great to have our Cork players back in Pearse and Kieran as they were big additions. We’ve added a few players from the minor two years ago and they’ve added appetite to the team. What was most pleasing was that we scored 1-15, as Na Piarsaigh have always been a difficult team to play.”
It was not a game where Aghada were reliant on their star turns to bail them out and by infusing their lineup with a slew of promising youngsters, they have embellished their prospects. Wing-back Eoin Healy and corner-forward Michael Russell showed up well, while their number 15 Cian Fleming looks a superb attacking talent. Fleming, a Cork minor two years ago, racked up 1-6 here as he displayed a prodigious ability from placed balls and his seventh-minute goal when he knifed through the cover was key.
That score pushed Aghada 1-3 to 0-1 in front, and by the 17th minute they had accelerated into a 1-6 to 0-2 lead. Indeed a second goal could have arrived shortly after but James O’Connell blasted just past the post. Still with the O’Neill brothers controlling midfield and O’Connor and Ronan Power in sound form at the back, Aghada were able to stay on top.
The stiff wind that they had to forage into in the first half was a clear impediment to Na Piarsaigh’s play and they did manage to stem the tide of Aghada pressure before the break. Cork hurler John Gardiner illustrated his threat as a football attacker once more with two fabulous long-range points, and the accuracy of Colin Lynch’s free-taking kept them in touch. At the break they were 1-8 to 0-5 adrift and still in the hunt.
But Na Piarsaigh needed a swift start to the second-half where they generated scores and shut Aghada out. They didn’t manage to achieve those objectives as Fleming banged over a brace inside two minutes to stretch Aghada’s lead to 1-10 to 0-5. Na Piarsaigh responded with substitute Keith Buckley impressing and when Shane Duggan converted a 38th minute free, there was six in it again at 1-11 to 0-8.
However the force of Aghada’s play in the closing 20 minutes was telling. They restricted Na Piarsaigh to just one more point, and while the city team’s poor shooting did contribute to that, they were afforded little latitude by the unyielding Aghada rearguard.
Up front, the likes of Stephen O’Keeffe and James O’Connell brought great pace and energy to their play, and Aghada tacked on a series of points to move 1-14 to 0-8 in front. The highlight of that scoring burst was when Kieran O’Connor moved upfield to strike from distance and a nine-point lead entering the final quarter meant Aghada’s third round spot was never in doubt.
Na Piarsaigh now face the losers of tonight’s clash between St Nicholas and Castlehaven in the second round.
Scorers for Aghada: C Fleming 1-6 (0-4f), P O’Neill, M Russell (0-2f), J O’Connell 0-2 each, T O’Keeffe, S O’Keeffe, K O’Connor 0-1 each.
Na Piarsaigh: C Lynch 0-3 (0-3f), J Gardiner, C O’Mahony 0-2 each, S Duggan (0-1f), K Buckley 0-1 each.
AGHADA: A O’Donoghue; B Wall, JP O’Connor, K O’Connor; J Connolly, R Power, E Healy; T O’Neill, P O’Neill; J O’Connell, S O’Keeffe, D Creedon; M Russell, T O’Keeffe, C Fleming.
Subs: J O’Shea for Creedon (47), S Wall for Connolly (53), G Melvin for Russell (57).
NA PIARSAIGH: W Daly; P Rourke, M Prendergast, T Miller; A Brady, S Óg O hAilpín, R McGregor; A O hAilpín, W Long; C O’Mahony, P Gould, J Gardiner; C Lynch, G Sheehan, S Duggan.
Subs: K Buckley for Long (21), E McCarthy for Prendergast (half-time), K Butterworth for Duggan (44), T O’hAilpín for Lynch (46), G Noonan for Gould (50).
Referee: Michael Collins (Clonakilty).