McCarthy heads the all-star cast as village fairytale finally

GENERALLY viewed as deceased the world over, it turns out romance is actually alive, and may be seen, living and breathing, in a small town off the main Cork-Waterford road.

Carrigtwohill ended a 93-year wait for a second Cork senior hurling title with a sensational win over Cork IT yesterday, taking the honours by one point, in a game with a fairy-tale finish.

In fact, the whole game was crammed with Hollywood anecdotes. The winning score came from a man who won an All-Ireland medal in the decade before last. Their main scoring threat used to be their goalkeeper. Two years ago they were in a relegation dogfight. The CIT coach even lives in Carrigtwohill.

To be honest, it was like Hoosiers meets Jerry Maguire by way of Friday Night Lights.

CIT were seen as favourites, a ranking which owed much to their annihilation of Newtownshandrum in the semi-final. In the aftermath though, it now looks as though Carrigtwohill’s more incremental progress, and in particular the team spirit forged in two tough local derbies with Cloyne and Midleton, left them better equipped for a nervy end-game.

Mickey ‘Da’ Fitzgerald, who was between the sticks in one of those relegation battles, kept the scoreboard ticking over for Carrig with six points, while a tight defence was expertly led by Noel Furlong at centre-back. The man of the match, however, was their centre-forward, Niall McCarthy.

As a Cork regular McCarthy is Carrig’s best-known player, and on yesterday’s evidence their most widely travelled. The cliché spouted before any game is that a player leaves it all on the pitch: by that reckoning they’ll be picking up pieces of Niall McCarthy in Páirc Uí Chaoimh for years to come.

He was everywhere.

One flying interception of an Aidan Walsh effort in the second half alone deserves to be known as the Block Heard Round The World, and his two points from the left wing, also in the second half, helped to revitalise Carrig just as CIT looked set to take over.

In any one-point game the margins are thin, and it was the same yesterday. Lorcan McLoughlin did little wrong for CIT, for instance, but their touch betrayed them once or twice in the first half, and a crucial 65 was wasted on a quick-passing routine that didn’t come off, with Carrig winning a free to lift the siege as a result.

The men in blue and gold showed more urgency around the middle off the field when it came to winning the ball in the closing minutes, but they left it late to get their winner: Rob White dropped the ball in around the CIT square with 59 minutes on the clock and Seanie O’Farrell, All-Ireland panellist with Cork in 1999, won it and pointed.

It wasn’t the most emphatic finish, but it drew a response from the noisy Carrig following which was all capital letters. With McCarthy helping to throw back CIT’s last attack, the final whistle sparked off what long-running tradition describes as unparalleled scenes of jubilation. That sounds about right.

A COUNTY hurling final in Cork has more than one context to deal with.

It arrives weighed down with more historical baggage, perhaps, than any other county decider: the little All-Ireland and all that.

Like any long-running act, there are always insinuations that the new stuff isn’t as good as the old hits – that this year’s classic doesn’t stir the blood the way they used to.

Then there’s the perception of the county final as a barometer of quality in the county generally. With a new manager in place in the shape of Jimmy Barry-Murphy Cork supporters were looking for straws in the wind.

The neutral strolling down the Centre Park Road for yesterday’s decider would be primed to search out hopeful auguries for the year ahead – a youngster announcing himself with a string of points, perhaps, or an undiscovered gem laying down a marker with a suave display of defensive artistry.

Strictly speaking yesterday’s decider didn’t produce much along those lines. Seanie O’Farrell goes back to Barry-Murphy’s first period in charge of Cork, while Mickey Fitzgerald was a minor in the late ‘90s.

On the CIT side Ross Cashman and Eoin Dillon did their reputations no harm, while Aidan Walsh’s raw power, not to mention those booming sideline cuts, must have had the Cork management – the hurling management – looking on wistfully.

But yesterday’s game will live on. Beyond the result, sights such as Carrig’s old warrior Willie John Daly and Niall McCarthy, together in victory can never be forgotten.

A fairy tale all right. It just happens to be true.

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