Referee Brian Murphy contributed to the excitement by playing eight minutes of injury-time in a game that was hotly contested from the very start, with some magnificent hurling and sweet scores.
Newcestown will now play either Ballinhassig or Valley Rovers in the decider, while Mallow can only reflect on a superb performance that barely came up short.
In a tense battle for supremacy, the sides were level on eight different occasions, the crowd marvelling at the speed of it all and, if there were some shooting lapses on both sides, the ability to pick off points from unpromising positions will be remembered in the post-match analysis.
Newcestown manager Eugene Desmond found it hard to take it all in. “I’m breathless, worse than breathless, there was a lot of injury-time and where it came from I don’t know. Happily, we survived it, we’re back where we wanted to be, back in the final.”
Hard to pick up after last year? “Yes,” said Desmond, “but you just have to take it one step at a time, win the first round, go home, go back training, take on the next opponents and follow the same patterns. There were times tonight that were difficult, but if you know these guys there is unbelievable heart and spirit in this team. I’m emotional, but I know these lads, they won’t lie down and die. All Newcestown teams are the same. We know we didn’t perform last year (when beaten by Ballyhea in the final), we will try to make it up.”
He paid tribute to Mallow, saying: “It was tough, Mallow played some great hurling. You would have to take your hat off to them, they’re a grand hurling team. But I think, I hope, that on the balance of play we deserved to get through. They got 12 of their points from frees and that’s something we will have to work on. The average frees conceded in the last couple of games wasn’t any more than six, so that’s something we have to take on board.”
Mallow have unearthed a scoring machine in the form of Sean Hayes. Yes, the corner-forward did have a couple of lapses, but his contribution of 10 points was critical in helping his side heap the pressure on Newcestown. Five of those scores came in the opening half as Mallow matched the winners blow for blow, the only first-half difference an eighth minute goal scored by Newcestown’s sharp-shooter supreme Luke Meade, whose side led 1-8 to 0-10 at the break.
Mallow turned the tables in the third quarter, after which they led by a point. The key difference during that spell was Cormac Murphy’s goal at the three-quarter mark. It was all to play for then; Meade knocked over a point to draw his side level after Murphy’s point restored the lead for Mallow.
Sean Hayes had the north Cork side ahead again after 50 minutes, but Newcestown finished with a scoring flourish, while Mallow spurned a couple of opportunities.
Daniel Twomey had a brace of points, Eoin Kelly and Sean O’Donovan each had one to give Newcestown just about enough breathing space to hold out with 14 men, substitute Odhran Keane seeing red near the end for a late challenge.
L Meade (1-4); D Twomey (0-4, 2 frees); F Keane, E Kelly (0-3 each); M Bradfield (0-2); C Keane, B O’Donovan (0-1 each).
C Murphy (1-3); L Meade (0-10 frees); P Herlihy, P Lyons, K Sheehan (0-1 each).
K Kelly, G Murphy, J Crowley (captain), M McSweeney, F Keane, J Desmond, C O’Neill, T Twomey, J Meade, D Twomey, C Keane, C Twomey, M Bradfield, E Kelly, L Meade.
S O’Donovan for Bradfield (44), O Keane for C O’Neill (52), C Dineen for C Twomey (54)
P Buckley, J O’Hanlon, K O’Connor, D Sheehan, A Luttrell, F O’Neill, R Mills, C Hannon, C Murphy, P Lyons, G Hayes, P Herlihy, D Relihan, K Sheehan, S Hayes.
A Sheehan for C Hannon, P Maher for G Hayes (both half-time), P Healy for P Lyons (54).
B Murphy (Carrigtwohill).