His outstanding scoring contribution mirrored the winning margin at the end of a disappointing game, to set up an intriguing contest with Na Piarsaigh next week.
Bishopstown, who had notched up 3-17 in their extra-time win over Carrigtwohill a week earlier, made a promising start but quickly began to struggle after conceding early scores.
Midleton selector Pat Walsh agreed that their loss to the city side in last year’s quarter-final had given them a powerful incentive: “the hurt of last year drove us on. You could see that the fellows who came on near the end worked very hard. It was something that let us down last year. We worked on that in training and it showed there. We started sluggishly, but once we settled into our stride our confidence grew quickly. It’s our second time being in a county semi-final in about 20 years and we’ll take it. But we’ll be up against it against Na Piarsaigh.”
Former Cork star Tim Crowley, a member of the Bishopstown management echoed the disappointment that ‘they never got going.’
“We appeared to be flat all over the field. Midleton were on top of us in nearly every position on the field once they got the goal,” he said.
“Midleton were far superior to us. Conor Lehane was outstanding. He got all the frees while we missed three or four frees which we needed badly to give us momentum. But, we didn’t get them and they got everything basically.’’
Pa Cronin had Bishopstown ahead after just three minutes with a wonderfully struck shot from far out on the left wing and frees from Thomas Murray and Cronin over the next five minutes reflected their confident start. However, it was a case of flattering to deceive, apart from competing strongly at times in defence — where Shane O’Neill was one of their most consistent performers.
As the game developed it quickly became evident that they had little enough to offer by way of a serious scoring threat in relation to the impressive way in which Midleton met the challenge head-on.
This was achieved through commanding play all over the field, early leadership from Conor Lehane in general play and superb free-taking which was to account for nine points of his 1-13 total.
It was Lehane who literally pointed the way from play in the 9th minute and from his first free quickly afterwards, before the impressive Paul Haughney added a third and the alertness of full-forward Declan Ryan enabled him to goal in the 13th minute after a shot from Luke O’Farrell came back off an upright.
As an illustration of how the course of the game changed so dramatically, Bishopstown were to be confined to a single point (coming ten minutes after their fourth, from Murray) for the rest of the half.
Lehane contributed three more points as Midleton turned over 1-9 to 0-5 in front and it was clear they were not going to lose this time.
With a lot of ball passing over Pa Cronin’s head while he remained in the half- forward line, Paul Honohan was one of Bishopstown’s few forwards to make some headway and he got their next score in the 42nd minute. But within 60 seconds Midleton again had the ball in the net. Lehane was the scorer, with a dazzling burst of speed and perfection in his finish that was reminiscent of his inspirational goal in the drawn All-Ireland final.
After that, Midleton supporters – and neutrals – could sit back and admire text-book play throughout the team, with the talented Lehane to the fore.
Scorers for Midleton: C. Lehane 1-13 (0-9 frees); D. Ryan 1-1; L. O’Farrell 0-2; P. Haughney and B. Hartnett 0-1 each.
Scores for Bishopstown: P. Honohan 0-3; T. Murray 0-2 frees; P. Cronin 0-2 (0-1 free); K. O’Driscoll 0-1.
MIDLETON: T. Wallace; K. Burke, P. O’Mahony, A. Kearney; S. O’Farrell, F. O’Mahony, J. Nagle; P. Haughney, P. Dowling; A. Ryan, P. O’Shea (capt..), C. Lehane; L. O’Farrell, D. Ryan, B. Hartnett.
Subs: P. O’Keeffe for D. Ryan (54); E. Walsh for Dowling (56); E. Mulcahy for Burke (60).
BISHOPSTOWN: K. O’Halloran; S. O’Neill, C. O’Driscoll, D. Lester; K. O’Driscoll, M. Driscoll, B. Healy; J. Murphy, B. Murray; P. Cronin, S. Lordan, P. Honohan; T. Murray (capt.), D. Crowley, G. McGlacken.
Subs: J. O’Sullivan for Murphy and B. Coffey for Healy (h.t); R. Conway for McGlacken (37); E. McCarthy for Lordan (47).
Referee: David Copps (Ballyhea).