Effectively, the backs ensured a fairy-tale ending to the game by absorbing intense pressure against the wind in the second half and defending the goal lead which ultimately separated the teams.
2007 Premier IHC winners Carrigtwohill, — who played in successive relegation battles in ‘08 and ‘09 hurled with a passion and a level of skill which belied their outsiders tag. But, manager James O’Connor – alluding to their 50/1 tag at the start of the campaign – insisted they always believed they were in ‘with a real fighting chance.’
“Every single one of these players would die for the blue and gold. Absolutely fantastic, I am delighted for the club, delighted for the players,” he said, praising the defence for standing up to ‘unbelievable pressure’ and crediting Niall McCarthy with great leadership on and off the field.
“My aim was to get this team into the last four. Now, here we are one hour away from a county title. What more can you ask for!’’
Midleton’s decision to play against the strong wind seemed to be vindicated by making most of the running for the opening 20 minutes, at which stage they led 0-5 to 0-3. Aidan Ryan was a key figure at centre-back, Seamus O’Farrell and Cormac Walsh were on top at midfield and Conor Lehane a real threat in attack.
However, Niall McCarthy’s experience and admirable application helped to lift Carrigtwohill’s challenge and Noel Furlong was settling down at centre-back to play a major role.
Unlucky when Fitzgerald missed a good goal chance in the 18th minute, Carrigtwohill were level by the 25th minute, through McCarthy, who followed quickly with a lead point. Midleton did miss a couple of good opportunities and a Lehane point was cancelled out by another rousing score from McCarthy, who then linked with Tomas Hogan to make the opening from which Fitzgerald scored their crucial goal. That was in the 31st minute and a Sean Hennessy point for a less convincing Midleton left the score at the interval 1-7 to 0-7.
The second-half stretched the resolve – and the resources – of both sides and surprisingly Midleton’s attack struggled. However, they were undermined by a series of missed chances and frustrated by superb defending. Colm O’Connell starred on the wing alongside Furlong and the full-back trio stood solid in the face of continuous pressure. For 20 minutes Carrig conceded just one point (to Lehane) and keeper William McCarthy stopped Paul Haughney’s attempt at a goal from an angled 21 yards free in the 55th minute.
Two quick Midleton points gave them hope of saving the game, but they came too late and when Furlong bravely put his body on the line to prevent Patrick White having a shot at goal, it was all over for them.
Scorers for Carrigtwohill: N. McCarthy 0-5; M. Fitzgerald 1-2 (0-2f); T. Hogan (0-1f), R. White and D. O’Mahony 0-1 each.
Scorers for Midleton: C. Lehane 0-3; S. Hennessy 0-2 (0-2f); S. O’Farrell, K. Mulcahy, P. White, P. O’Shea and L. O’Farrell 0-1 each.
CARRIGTWOHILL: W. McCarthy; R. Power, P. O’Sullivan, M. Foley; C. O’Connell, N. Furlong, M. O’Riordan; D. O’Mahony, L. O’Sullivan; N. McCarthy, S. Flannery, S. Kidney; M. Fitzgerald, R. White, T. Hogan.
Subs: C. Cronin for O’Mahony (inj. 38); B. Lordan for Cronin (58).
MIDLETON: B. Behan; P. O’Mahony, D. Ryan, F. O’Mahony; J. Nagle, A. Ryan (capt.), P. O’Shea; S. O’Farrell, C. Walsh; S. Hennessy, K. Mulcahy, C. Lehane; P. White, L. O’Farrell, P. Haughney.
Subs: S. Moore for Mulcahy (45); P. O’Keeffe for Hennessy (49); J. Keane for Haughney (58).
Referee: D Kirwan (Éire Óg).
* Attendance: 6,403.