“It has been a bit of a step up,” Mitchelstown captain Shane Beston says of his side’s first season in the intermediate grade. On the night in question, Beston and his team-mates had made it look anything but, sweeping Ballydesmond aside in comprehensive fashion, 5-24 to 1-5. In fact, despite their neophyte status at this level, Mitchelstown have won six of their first seven league games, and look extremely comfortable.
Tonight’s opponents in the first round of the IFC, Kildorrery, are more experienced at this grade, and have won four of their six games so far. As close as they are in the league table, they’re also neighbours geographically, with only seven miles between the two.
Beston thinks that part of his team’s strong start is down to their style of play.
“I suppose the pace of the game and everything like that’s a bit higher, but I think we’re enjoying it, like, it’s good open football, I think it’s suiting us a bit.”
Yet he emphasises that Mitchelstown’s early run of results means little against Kildorrery. “League football and championship football’s totally different, so we’re not getting too ahead of ourselves yet.”
Team manager Joe O’Sullivan emphasises that a high-paced attacking game is the way Mitchelstown want to play. He credits their quick adaptation to the intermediate grade partly to this style, which he said was aided by the introduction of the black card rule. “It makes for a lot more [of a] running game, and where footballers can really play. I think with our side being so young and having that bit of pace, it actually suits us.”
O’Sullivan also points to the influence of Billy Morgan, who has taken on a coaching role with the club, when explaining the team’s up-tempo, attack-from-anywhere mentality. “That would be Billy’s style, that’s the way he wants to play it. He wants everything done at pace, and fellas really attacking.”
PRO Niall Walsh notes that Morgan is continuing the work of another high-profile coach, Larry Tompkins, who previously worked with Mitchelstown, and that the club have been lucky to have such successful coaches involved.
“Billy just brings that years of experience that he has with Sigerson [Cup], with Nemo [Rangers], with Cork. All the boys look up to him. He commands respect straightaway.”
Despite their excellent form to this point in the season, O’Sullivan thinks his side will be underdogs tonight in Glanworth (6.45pm). “Kildorrery would be very, very strong opposition and would be definitely strong favourites on the night to proceed in that championship, I’d imagine. But this is new to us, we can only have a go and it definitely would be huge intensity there with the local derby.”
A short trip away in Kildorrery, manager John Paul Fenton doesn’t exactly sound like a man whose side are firm favourites. Speaking before training at Kildorrery’s pitch, overlooking miles of fields and forestry lit by the dying evening sun, he appears keen to make sure his players don’t get carried away by their own strong start to the league. At the time of this interview, Kildorrery had four wins from five games, but Fenton focused on their solitary defeat. “We feel we’re doing okay. We got a good beating there from Carrigaline in a match, so we’re doing okay. It’s kind of hard to get everyone going at the same time and stuff like that, but every club is the same. But we’re happy enough so far.”
Fenton is also well aware of the added significance this fixture holds due to the proximity of the two clubs. His players are particularly keen to prove themselves against their local rivals, especially since Mitchelstown have only now been promoted to intermediate, and it has been years since the clubs have clashed.
“They would be anxious to play Mitchelstown and they’d be anxious to perform reasonably well against Mitchelstown. They are games to look forward to.”
Midfielder William Fuohy has a similar view. Never having played competitively against Mitchelstown, Fuohy is thoroughly looking forward to the fixture.
“I went to school with a lot of the Mitchelstown boys, but I suppose once the whistle is blown and the ball is thrown in, all bets are off,” he says.
Encouragingly for spectators, Fenton and Fuohy both suggested that Kildorrery, like Mitchelstown, hope to play a fast, attacking game. “We’d feel we’d have some reasonable pace around the field, we try to let the ball off pretty good and fellas running off the shoulders of other fellas,” Fenton said.
Fuohy again agrees with his coach: “We like to run at a team, but once we hold the ball in the middle, then we like playing it inside quick to the forwards.”