Just 12 months ago they produced a glittering display of attacking football that saw them emphatically defeat Na Piarsaigh in the first round. Saturday on the Boreenmanna Road provided a sterner examination of their credentials against a young, energetic Valley Rovers team in brutal weather conditions.
But the East Cork men succeeded and that was a testament to their refusal to panic under pressure. They did not panic when trailing 0-6 to 0-3 approaching half-time after being outplayed for large chunks of the opening period. Instead they calmly engineered two frees, tapped over by the outstanding Cian Fleming, and were within touching distance at the interval.
Aghada’s experience was vital again in the finale when Valley Rovers possessed a 0-9 to 0-8 advantage and produced a late burst of three points on the trot from play courtesy of Michael Russell, Pearse O’Neill and Fleming.
Valley Rovers mounted a desperate late onslaught but Hughie O’Donovan slipped as he was about to kick a late free and the ball skewed wide. Then followed a piledriver over the bar from Fiachra Lynch in injury-time did not alter the eventual result.
The victory was immensely satisfying for Aghada. Easing relegation fears this early in the season was a welcome boost and for a dual club picking off a shallow pool of players, it also serves as an important fillip for their intermediate hurlers as fixture congestion is eased.
Long-term injury victim Brendan Crowley could be back in harness for the next round and he would enhance their defensive options.
Their rearguard were to the fore. Kieran O’Connor’s influence grew as the action progressed, both in restricting Valley Rovers forwards and launching attacking moves, while Billy Hennessy and JP O’Connor tightened up close to goal.
After shipping six points in the opening 26 minutes, Aghada conceded four points and only two of those were from play.
The presence of the game’s blue-chip forward Fleming in their lineup was a significant advantage for Aghada. At times Fleming’s shooting was erratic, from play and frees, but he kept showing for the ball and his pace posed difficulties for the Valley Rovers defence.
Indeed the Innishannon side were twice grateful to county netminder Alan Quirke for preventing Fleming from raising a green flag.
Featuring in only their second season at senior level, Valley Rovers were hugely competitive. They were without a key component of last year’s team in Kevin Canty who was a big loss around the middle of the park. While Chris O’Donovan and Fiachra Lynch formed an effective midfield partnership, they could have done with Lynch in attack.
They settled quicker with Gary Farrell, Denis Collins and Lynch all knocking over points to create a 0-4 to 0-1 advantage. While Aghada trimmed that lead before the break, Valley Rovers produced another strong rally in the second-half.
The introduction of Cork minor Darragh Murphy to defence and Eamonn Collins to attack paid off and a brace of Collins points paved the way for their 0-9 to 0-8 lead entering the closing stages.
But with Pearse O’Neill thundering into the match at midfield, Aghada produced the decisive closing kick.
Scorers for Aghada: C Fleming 0-8 (0-5f); P O’Neill 0-2; M Russell 0-1.
Scorers for Valley Rovers: H O’Donovan (0-2f), F Lynch (0-1f), E Collins 0-2 each; D Collins, G Farrell, J Walsh, E Manning 0-1 each.
AGHADA: A O’Donoghue; B Hennessy, JP O’Connor, S Cashman; E Savage, K O’Connor, A O’Connell; E Healy, T O’Neill; J O’Shea, P O’Neill, C Power; M Russell, B O’Flaherty, C Fleming.
Subs: J Connolly for Power (53).
VALLEY ROVERS: A Quirke; B Lehane, M O’Brien, F Coughlan; D Crowley, D Lynch, R Lehane; C O’Donovan, F Lynch; G Farrell, S Nolan, D Collins; J Walsh, E Manning, H O’Donovan.
Subs: E Collins for Nolan (36), D Murphy for D Collins (36), G Rice for Walsh (58), N O’Donovan for R Lehane (58).
Referee: Colm Lyons (Nemo Rangers)