Niall McCarthy proved an inspirational figure for Carrigtwohill in yesterday’s low-key county SHC third-round tie at sun-soaked Midleton.
Two-time All-Ireland winner McCarthy’s majesty illuminated a one-sided contest, the centre-forward contributing 0-5 from play in an impressive overall team performance from the 2011 champions.
McCarthy was central to everything that was positive in Carrig’s hurling and movement, and the captain was ably assisted by Seán Dempsey in midfield and up front by full-forward Robert White and wing-forward Tomás Hogan.
Whether McCarthy (34), looking superbly conditioned, sprightly and sharp in front of goal, joins Bride Rovers’ Brian Murphy as a second ‘comeback kid’ onto Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s Cork squad remains a moot point, but Carrig’s totem figure is, arguably, playing as well as any other Cork senior forward in this year’s championships.
That call remains JBM’s, though.
“Niall is a natural talent,” said manager Niall Kidney afterwards. “He’s 34 years of age. He’s probably in better condition than most of the Cork seniors. That’s just the way he lives.
“It’s not a decision for me to make unfortunately. I’m not the main man there - that’s up to them [the Cork management team].
“You can see what he can do out there: central to everything, he ran the show, the younger lads look up to him. He’s got the experience.
“There are not too many 34-year-olds playing like that in senior hurling.”
After a managerial change and two championship losses, Carrig have moved from relegation candidates to one of the championship’s dark horses and can now look forward to a clash with Ballymartle in round four.
Other long serving clubmen like Jason Barrett – whose early second-half goal killed this game as a contest - and Noel Furlong, who superbly shackled Cork panellist Andy Walsh before the latter was moved late on to the edge of the square, were also instrumental in this 15-point win.
Meanwhile, Killeagh must prepare for a second relegation final in 12 months.
Every team takes a beating at some stage in its shelf life, but the challenge now for Killeagh is how they react to such a pummelling by their east Cork neighbours.
It’s a mental challenge, too, and they must regroup for a battle against the losers of the Bishopstown and St Finbarr’s clash.
Yesterday may have also marked the second last day of one of Cork hurling’s greatest servants in a club shirt.
Joe Deane turns 38 in November, having first lined out for Killeagh’s top adult team in his mid-teens.
He did his best to keep the score respectable and notched five points, however Killeagh are in transition and, with a good sprinkling of young players coming through - ably led by Cian Fogarty, Brian Collins, Eoghan Keniry and David Cahill - better days lie in store for this great club.
By the eighth minute, Killeagh were trailing by 0-3 to 0-2 after David Cahill knocked over a resplendent point but, with McCarthy’s influence proving key to Carrig’s dominace, they shifted up a gear to lead 0-8 to 0-3 by the 15th minute.
The marksmanship of Hogan, White and Barrett all contributed to a 0-13 to 0-5 lead on 25 minutes, although there were signs in the next three minutes when Killeagh rattled off three successive points that this game wouldn’t be over early as a contest.
Killeagh will rue two goal chances created in the opening moiety, and, in injury-time, Carrig got just reward for their territorial dominance when Darren O’Driscoll cut through to beat Bernard Rochford.
It stood at 1-14 to 0-10 at the break but, when Barrett took off on a solo-run 50 seconds after the restart and buried from close-range, Carrig kicked on in scintillating fashion.
By the 44rd minute they led 2-23 to 0-13, and the game thereafter petered out to an inevitable conclusion.
R White, T Hogan (frees) 0-7 each, J Barrett 1-2, N McCarthy 0-5, D O’Driscoll 1-1, S Dempsey 0-3, J Horgan, M O’Riordan 0-1 each.
D Cahill 0-6, J Deane (two frees, one 65), E Keniry 0-5 each, B Collins and J Budds 0-1 each.
S Devlin; P O’Sullivan, A Garde, P Hogan;M O’Riordan, N Furlong, C. O’Connell; L O’Sullivan, S Dempsey; J Hogan, N McCarthy, T Hogan; D O’Driscoll, R White, J Barrett.
S Forbes for Dempsey (56), S Rohan for McCarthy (58).
B Rochford; Colin Fogarty, Cian Fogarty, P O’Brien; K Lane, B Barry, D Cahill; B Collins, J Deane; D Walsh, A Walsh, E Keniry; D Landers, S Long, D Cahill. Subs: J Budds for D Walsh (27-30, blood), K Murphy for Lane (39).
C Lyons (Nemo Rangers)