It may have been only the second senior game of summer, but it bore all the tell-tale signs of an end-of-season relegation scrap.
As Dohenys converged in a circle at the end, players and management dished out the hard truths behind the loss, and said what needs to change. Aghada, meanwhile, rejoiced with hugs all round.
There had been shoulders and words exchanged on the sideline as tensions frayed entering stoppage time, where rare moments of class, two fine kicks from Cian Fleming and Pearse O’Neill, elevated Aghada to victory and a first-round tie with UCC.
After their huddle, the disappointed Dohenys manager Tim Buckley said: “As you heard there, in fairness to the lads, they identified the problems that are there and they’ve worked very hard. The relegation word is starting to come into play again and we certainly don’t want that to be in the dressing room. It’s not a healthy (word) to be in a dressing room on a regular basis.”
For context, Dohenys have been in relegation play-offs in two of the past three years. The only year they avoided that fate, they beat Aghada in the first round.
The East Cork men, for their part, were relegated after a winless year in 2015, only for a structural change to save them, and waited until October to register their only win last year in a relegation play-off.
So, while the football was littered with errors, it was hard-fought, hard-won, and well celebrated.
“It was a scrap and both teams put a great effort into it. We were just lucky to come out in the end,” said their breathless manager Aidan Kelleher. “It’s great. You can see it there with us all. We didn’t expect anything here today. We went out with the attitude of just ‘put our damndest into it’ and thankfully we came out the right side.”
His team scored the first four points of the game within 11 minutes and, after Dohenys drew level at six-all after the break, they kicked the next four too; three from Fleming’s trusty right peg.
However, Cork U21 Mark Buckley goaled a 54th-minute penalty, after Mark Quinn was fouled by Aghada captain Tim Hartnett, and added a levelling point, as Dohenys appeared to have turned the tide.
They could never grasp the lead, though, and after Fleming and Buckley traded scores, O’Neill and Fleming made the telling impact.
O’Neill won the final three long kick-outs, two with clean catches, while Fleming forced a turnover from Sean Daly when Dohenys went short. Fleming converted that for a point and O’Neill punted his free, after the final mark, over the black spot.
“The man (O’Neill) is ancient — we’ll have to put him in crutches to keep him going,” joked Kelleher. “But look, the lads look up to him. He’s been a talisman for the club the same as Conor Counihan and Kieran O’Connor — they all put in great time into the club.”
As for Fleming? “You see the way that man trains, and he encourages everyone. That’s the ethos of the club.”
Thanks to his accuracy, Aghada were able to thrive, despite being starved of chances at times. They went 17 minutes without a score in the first-half, but Dohenys too often took on difficult shots from wide positions and had their own 18-minute scoreless patch before their late revival.
“We’d as many chances ourselves, which is the cruel thing about it,” summarised Buckley.
“We needed to win this game so we’re disappointed, but I don’t have a cat, so I won’t be kicking the cat when I go home!”
C Fleming (0-7, 2fs, 1 45); P O’Neill (0-3, 1f); W Leahy, M O’Connor, K O’Shea (0-1 each).
M Buckley (1-6, 1-0 pen, 2fs, 1 45); M Quinn (0-2).
A O’Donoghue; T Hartnett, M Russell, K O’Donoghue; J Tynan, J O’Donoghue, K O’Shea; T O’Neill, C O’Driscoll; A Berry, P O’Neill, W Leahy; M O’Connor, C Fleming, S Bennett.
R Kennedy for O’Connor (ht), J Looney for Berry (43), J Farmer for Leahy (52), D O’Brien for T O’Neill (56), Berry for J O’Donoghue (61, BC).
D Kelly; B O’Donovan, S Daly, N Hurley; T O’Leary, J McCarthy, J Carroll; D O’Dwyer, E Lavers; C O’Donovan, B McCarthy, N Collins; M Quinn, M Buckley, D Mawe.
J Kelly for B McCarthy (18), K Crowley for Carroll (35), D McSweeney for Collins (52).
K Murphy (Nemo Rangers).