Three years after their relegation, Valley Rovers are back in Cork senior footballing ranks after a good first half laid the foundations for victory over Na Piarsaigh at Páirc Uí Chaoimh yesterday.
Leading by 0-11 to 0-2 at the break after being helped by the elements, the Innishannon side only added a single second-half point to that tally but did enough to ensure that a full-blown Na Piarsaigh comeback couldn’t become a reality.
For manager Gerard Slyne, it was a case of dealing with what was thrown at them: “Not pretty, we struggled for a while but we knew that it was always going to be tough today,” he said.
“Finals are a different animal to any other game, regardless of their league form Piarsaigh were going to be difficult, they didn’t want to lose any final.
“We had a cushion at half-time but we knew that they’d be at us in the second half. The turning point was when the sub Ben Murphy came on and got a point, our heads lifted a bit there and we were glad to get over the line.”
Being limited to just a point in the second half may not have been something that Slyne would have foreseen, but he was expecting a backlash.
“There was a gale of wind there, we knew that Piarsaigh would push on,” he said.
“The cushion was nice but we knew that if we could go nine points ahead they could do the same to us in the second half.”
Despite having the utility of the strong breeze blowing towards Blackrock and the open sea, Valleys took a while to get going. Once they did, they took near-complete control and with a nine-point half-time lead it was always difficult to foresee a turnaround in the second period.
While Kevin Canty had two points in as many minutes from the restart and Hughie O’Donovan added a free, it didn’t signal an immediate procession.
There was an element of prudence in the Innishannon side’s set-up, O’Donovan operating deeper to allow Fiachra Lynch and John Cottrell the benefits of a two-man full-forward line, but Na Piarsaigh opted to allow Eoin Moynihan remain spare and that initially dented the supply.
At the other end, a close-range Stephen Glasgow free was followed by Alan Hogan’s pass and with 10 minutes on the clock it was 0-3 to 0-2. Game on? That was the sign, but it looked as if it wouldn’t materialise given how the rest of the half transpired.
Na Piarsaigh wouldn’t score again until the second half, but Valleys were sloppy and it wasn’t until the key five-minute spell before the interval that they really asserted themselves.
The lead had extended to 0-6 to 0-2 before they turned on the turbo. First, the excellent Jack Murphy got on the end of a move involving David Lynch and Aidan Walsh, then John Cottrell converted a free and Hughie O’Donovan did likewise after Fiachra Lynch drew a foul.
With all of the play now close to the Piarsaigh goal, Jack Murphy got another and then Fiachra Lynch ensured a nine-point lead at the break with a brilliantly-taken score from the left.
The notion that they wouldn’t add to their tally until the 52nd minute was hard to believe at the time, but after the restart it was their turn to be penned back in the face of extreme pressure.
Piarsaigh’s shooting wasn’t as clinical, however. Though Seán Óg Ó hAilpín was influencing proceedings more after his moved from full- to centre-back, it took until the 38th minute for them to get a score, though half-time sub Shane Duggan.
That did at least pave the way for more to follow, with Stephen Glasgow kicking an excellent long-range effort while John Gardiner brought them to within six after linking with Pádraig Gould.
When Cian O’Mahony added a pair of points around the three-quarter mark, the questions were getting louder, but at the same time the wastage of other efforts, coupled with the failure to fashion goalscoring opportunities, meant that Valleys’ nerves never got near the shredder.
Sub Ben Murphy gave them a bit of breathing space again with his first touch after Cottrell and Hughie O’Donovan had done well, and the breaking of Na Piarsaigh’s stranglehold upset their rhythm.
By the closing stages, Cottrell was the only Valley Rovers player in the opposition half and the massed ranks were doing enough to frustrate their opponents. Gearóid Fitzgerald did get a late Piarsaigh point but that was as good as it got. Manager Diarmuid McDonnell was pleased with the fightback but accepted that the first half had built too much of an obstacle.
“It gave us a huge mountain to climb but at the same time we knew that we weren’t out of it at half-time,” he said.
“The wind was quite strong but we kicked a lot of wides in the second half, that was the difference. You have to take your chances when you get them and unfortunately we didn’t do that today. You can’t fault the workrate and the effort though, the lads were outstanding.”
The five points scored by Valleys between the 26th minute and half-time were crucial as it meant that they led by nine points at the break.
Talk of the town
This victory and last year’s U21 win means that Valleys have a lot of players with experience of success. They seem set to make more of an impact at senior than their last sojourn at the top.
Barely a minute had elapsed and Valleys had two points on the board, both identical efforts from Kevin Canty.
No player was outstanding throughout, but Kevin Canty in the Rovers midfield had plenty of positive moments. He scored the first two points and was heavily involved.
None were awarded though another referee mightn’t have been so generous.
Both sides withdrew men deep in the first half, Valleys eventually getting better to grips with having two inside. They flooded their defence in the second period and Piarsaigh found it difficult to break down.
David Murnane’s decision-making was by and large correct, though he was shy with his cards.
A Munster Club IFC clash with Tipperary or Limerick opponents awaits for Valleys on November 16.
Scorers for Valley Rovers: H O’Donovan (two frees, one 45), J Murphy 0-3 each, J Cottrell (frees), K Canty 0-2 each, F Lynch, B Murphy 0-1 each.
Scorers for Na Piarsaigh: C O’Mahony, S Glasgow (free) 0-2 each, G Fitzgerald, J Gardiner, A Hogan, S Duggan 0-1 each.
VALLEY ROVERS: A Quirke; N O’Donovan, J Lynch, J Lyons; T Cummins, D Lynch, A Walsh; K Canty, G Farrell; D Murphy, J Murphy, S Manning; F Lynch, J Cottrell, H O’Donovan.
Subs: E Delaney for S Manning (42), E Fallon for Farrell (45), B Murphy for Cummins (51), M Murphy for Cottrell (54), D Crowley for F Lynch (59), E Manning for Walsh (60, injured).
NA PIARSAIGH: J O’Connor; E Moynihan, S Óg Ó hAilpín, A Dennehy; G Fitzgerald, S O’Sullivan, A Brady; P Rourke, J Gardiner; K Buckley, S Glasgow, P Gould; S Warren, A Hogan, C O’Mahony.
Subs: S Duggan for Warren (half-time), A Keating for Buckley (38), J O’Rourke for Glasgow (52), E Hanifin for Hogan (56).
Referee: D Murnane (Macroom).