The elongated nature of the championship’s earlier rounds has its critics in the county and the structure may need to be re-examined, but, in sport, little surpasses a winner-takes-all encounter between two clubs with similar ambitions.
There was plenty to admire in the way both clubs approached this do-or-die encounter, one that Michael’s just about deserved to win.
They edged the possession stakes and, in the overall context of this hugely competitive battle, possessed a better-balanced outfit that will cause fancied Kiskeam some difficulty in a quarter-final tie fixed for August 29.
But Michael’s manager Noel Creedon is aware of the huge task that lies ahead: “We’d spoken beforehand that only once in the last 16 years had we won two consecutive matches – that was an objective in itself here tonight.
“Kiskeam are next and will be as competitive if not more competitive than Mallow. We’ll enjoy this win for what it is, but it’s just another round really.”
Eric Hegarty, a former Cork minor, was the game’s standout performer, though Mallow’s Cian O’Riordan came a close second, the physically imposing target man contributing an audacious goal late in the game and eight of his side’s points.
Paul Cronin, Eoghan Buckley and the long-serving Michael Mulconroy also starred for Michael’s while Richard Dineen was a hugely influential figure at midfield.
Dineen’s influence even outshone the contribution of James Loughrey. The Cork senior has experienced the trials and tribulations of inter-county championship football over the last few weeks but the Antrim native struggled to replicate his outstanding Rebel form.
The game hinged on an 11th-minute goal from Andrew Murphy, the wing-back ghosting in behind the Mallow defence to cleverly slot home a well–worked goal, after Paul Cronin played a significant role in the build-up.
That opened a gap Mallow struggled to close over the hour though they were unfortunate when Barry Hootan’s super shot came back off the crossbar in the 27th minute Mallow will also rue five missed scoring opportunities in a ten-minute spell after the break, which might have altered the narrative of the second half.
The first half was played at a frenetic pace with St. Michael’s quicker to settle.
The otherwise brilliant Paul Cronin had a goal-bound shot blocked heroically by the outstanding Bill Myers in the third minute, and it set the tone for this hugely competitive encounter.
The sides were level only once over the hour - in the 10th minute - and Mallow held the lead for just one minute having scored three successive points between the 8th and 10th minutes.
Murphy’s well-taken goal handed the initiative to St. Michael’s who, inspired by Eric Hegarty, pushed on in the second quarter and pressured the Mallow defence, with five of their six first-half points coming from close-range frees.
It stood 1-6 to 0-6 at half time, and the fight-back expected from Mallow materialised. Inspired by Myers and Colin Stanton and driven on by Loughrey’s direct running, Mallow created those five chances but failed to convert any of them.
However, when the hardworking Killian O’Connor landed a splendid point on 40 minutes, it appeared to be the spark to help Mallow push on.
But a litany of shrewd substitutions by Michael’s, allied to Eric Hegarty’s and Richard Dineen’s growing influence outfield, and Paul Cronin’s and Eoghan Buckley’s presence up front, helped turn the tide back.
Michael Mulconroy knocked over two sweet points in the 51st and 55th minutes that helped push Michael’s 1-11 to 0-9 in front.
Mallow rallied and O’Riordan blasted home powerfully from a 21-yard free in the last minute. The same player added a point two minutes into injury-time, perhaps unaware that his effort was the game’s final play.
P Cronin (0-6, five frees); A Murphy (1-0); M Mulconroy and E Hegarty (frees) (0-2 each); K Hegarty (0-1).
C O’Riordan (1-8, 1-4f); M O’Rourke and K O’Connor (0-1 each).
C Hartnett; D O’Shea, J Heylin, C O’Shaughnessy; E Hegarty, M Ryan, A Murphy; S O’Keeffe, P Doyle; R Dineen, M Mulconroy, M Drummond; K Hegarty, E Buckley, P Cronin.
S Keating for O’Keeffe (43, black card); S O’Sullivan for K Hegarty (47); A Giltinan for Drummond (52); D Cremin for Buckley (58).
P Buckley; D Sheehan, A Cashman, B Myers; C Stanton, J McGuinness, K McCarthy; E Stanton, J Loughrey; M Murphy, K O’Connor, B Hootan; C Stokes, C O’Riordan, M O’Rourke.
P Herlihy for Murphy (half-time); A Sheehan for O’Rourke (42); J O’Hanlon for Hootan (53); C Lynch for McCarthy (58).
P O’Leary (Kilmurry)