When the draws were made for the quarter-finals of the Cork SHC, most observers, this reporter included, identified this side of the draw as the weaker half. Na Piarsaigh had just knocked out three-in-a-row chasing Glen Rovers and, so, were rightly looked upon as favourites to come through and reach the final. Their quarter-final performance against Bandon reaffirmed this view.
That suited the Rockies fine, Fergal Ryan’s charges more than content to wear the tag of underdogs. They did their homework on Na Piarsaigh and it showed in almost every line of the pitch.
Padraig Guest, so influential for Na Piarsaigh all season, was held to a point from play, while Dayne Lee was rendered scoreless. Both midfielders were hauled ashore, while Blackrock’s persistence in playing the flanks at every opportunity limited the influence centre-back Christopher Joyce could exact on proceedings. Hindsight, of course, is a mighty tool, but perhaps the losing management ought to have shoved Joyce up to midfield in the second period, as there was simply no ball coming into his area.
Blackrock, and they’ll be the first to admit this, are a team without any marquee figures. Michael O’Halloran is the most recognisable name on their team-sheet; he wore the No 26 shirt on the afternoon Cork went down to Waterford in the All-Ireland semi-final. They don’t depend on any one individual and pride themselves on their collective work ethic. This, and the fairly savage hunger tabled yesterday, is what squeezed them into a first county final since 2003.
With the Rockies in front by the minimum and the clock in the red, Na Piarsaigh were time and again bullied off possession. Dayne Lee got onto the ball around midfield only to be swallowed up by three green-and-gold hooped jerseys. Anthony Dennehy was outnumbered two to one at the Blackrock End and was twice blocked down.
Aside from Christopher Joyce’s injury-time wide, Na Piarsaigh weren’t able — or rather weren’t allowed — to create a half decent equalising opportunity.
The final quarter belonged to the winners. Indeed, save for two goals from Evan Sheehan in the opening two minutes, the second half was owned by the Rockies.
Ahead by 0-12 to 0-11 at the break, Fergal Ryan’s troops were left stunned, as Cork minor Sheehan, a half-time substitute, rattled the top left corner of Gavin Connolly’s goal 25 seconds after the restart. Two minutes later, the teenager cut in from the North Stand side, shipping two heavy tackles, before burying the sliotar.
Now five to the good, you expected Stephen O’Sullivan’s side to finally spark to life after being reliant on the dead-ball accuracy of Guest, Eoin Moynihan and Keith Buckley in the opening period, with trio converting six placed-ball efforts between them. They were unable to kick on, however.
Shane O’Keeffe, sub Liam O’Sullivan and a Michael O’Halloran free cut the margin and, though Buckley and Sheehan pushed their lead back out to four, they’d not score from play in the closing 16 minutes of action and managed just one point during the period.
Two O’Halloran frees either side of points from Ger Regan and David Cashman squared matters at 2-13 to 0-19 on 50 minutes. O’Halloran landed a difficult free to make it five-in-a-row and nudge them back in front.
Eoin Moynihan’s second 65 of the day tied proceedings for the seventh occasion. Stalemate was brief, though, as Cashman teed up O’Halloran and he threw over his eighth of the semi-final two minutes from time.
The following will make difficult reading for the vanquished this morning; outscored by 0-6 to 0-1 in the final quarter and by 0-9 to 0-3 after Sheehan’s brace of goals. A balanced effort this was from the winners; one defender, both midfielders, four starting forwards and two subs writing their names onto the scoresheet.
You can’t ask for much more. Well, a first county title since 2002 wouldn’t go astray.
M O’Halloran (0-8, 0-6 frees); G Regan, S O’Keeffe (0-3 each); A O’Callaghan (0-2 each); N Cashman, D O’Farrell, S Murphy, D Cashman, L O’Sullivan (0-1 each).
E Sheehan (2-1); P Guest (0-5, 0-4 frees); K Buckley (0-4, 0-1 free); E Moynihan (0-2, 0-2 ‘65s); S Forde, C Joyce (0-1 each).
P O’Sullivan; Adam Dennehy, E Gunning, E Moynihan; Anthony Dennehy, C Joyce, C Buckley; A Brady, K Forde; A Hogan, S Forde, P Rourke; K Buckley, D Lee, P Guest.
E Sheehan for K Forde (HT); G Joyce for Hogan (38); E Hanifin for Guest (51); K Forde for Brady (56).
G Connolly; J Cashman, D Stokes, G Norberg; A Murphy, E Smith, N Cashman; S Murphy, D O’Farrell; S O’Keeffe, A O’Callaghan, G Regan; M O’Halloran, C Cormack, J Sullivan.
L O’Sullivan for J O’Sullivan (37); D Cashman for Cormack (42); D Meaney for A Murphy (43); T Deasy for L O’Sullivan (61).
J Larkin (Douglas).