There was nothing easy about the victory – best summed up by captain Matthew Taylor (deputising for the injured Andrew Cashman). The outstanding centre-back reflected:
“Everyone knew they had energy in the tank, and you go down to the bottom of the tank in these types of situations.”
What a difference a week made for the six hurlers on the panel. In their hurling loss to Kanturk, Pa Herlihy and Aaron Sheehan were both substituted.
Yesterday they were introduced, the duo combining for the all-important goal two minutes into stoppage time as the ball was magnificently finished by Sheehan.
He was set up by Herlihy – who once again had his hamstring heavily strapped - after a move started by another great club servant Cian O’Riordan.
O’Riordan’s seven points heaped pressure on St Michael’s – three of these in a highly productive 10-minute spell after the break.
A Shane O’Keeffe goal would wrestle back control eight minutes from time, leaving Mallow with it all to do. But St Michael’s couldn’t recover from Sheehan’s major.
The Billy Long Cup was on its way to north Cork, and with it senior football for 2018 – their first triumph since 2007 and their third in total.
The sides were deadlocked 0-7 apiece at the interval, and had been level four times in the half. St Michael’s got off to an encouraging start moving 0-5 to 0-3 clear inside the opening 10 minutes.
Niall Cashman scored two of these from midfield but once Taylor established a foothold at number six, Mallow achieved parity with five minutes to go to the break. Taylor, O’Riordan and James Loughrey (playing out around midfield) all supplying white flags.
Mallow then took the lead when Taylor set up O’Riordan, but deep in injury time Paul Cronin kicked over a free to tie matters.
Goal chances were let slip at either end, and St Michael’s – looking for their first title since 1998 - also missed a couple of scoreable frees.
They were a dealt a blow as well when full-back Alan O’Callaghan received a black card for a foul on the in-rushing Taylor on 17 minutes.
A brisk restart saw the Mallow attack link up brilliantly as they posted four points in a seven-minute spell. An O’Sullivan free in the first minute was followed by three O’Riordan scores – two from play.
However, the St Michael’s work-rate couldn’t be faulted, drawing fouls, Cronin landed three frees to trim the deficit to two points at the end of the third quarter.
Mallow’s Michael Quirke roamed upfield to see his effort sail over with the help of the upright while Eric Hegarty kept the city team in contention.
Loughrey then could have goaled only for ‘keeper Martin Burke doing exceptionally well to tip the ball over the bar. It was nip and tuck.
Eric Hegarty got the next score, 0-14 to 0-12, before O’Keeffe netted following a quick 45 from Eric Hegarty. And one could not be faulted for thinking it was going to be St Michael’s day.
Crucially, Herlihy and O’Riordan replied to take the lead. St Michael’s brought it back to parity twice before Sheehan’s wonder goal.
St Michael’s pressed again but all they could engineer was points from the Hegarty brothers Keith and Eric.
For county star James Loughrey, the victory was extra-special.
“I joined Mallow in 2013. I come from a place in Belfast where dual clubs are non-existent. For a club to be competitive at both levels is unbelievable and we were conscious of Fermoy last year.
“My club at home (St Brigid’s, Belfast) won the intermediate championship last night so there was a bit of added pressure on me,” he smiled.
C O’Riordan (0-7, 0-3 frees), A Sheehan (1-0), M Taylor, J Loughrey and K O’Sullivan (0-1 free) (0-2 each), M Quirke, C Stokes, R Harkin and P Herlihy (0-1 each).
P Cronin (0-6, 0-5 frees), S O’Keeffe (1-0), E Hegarty (0-3, 0-1 free), N Cashman and L O’Sullivan (0-2 each), D Meaney, K Hegarty and D Cremin (0-1 each).
K Doyle; M Quirke, J Loughrey, B Myers; J McGuinness, M Taylor, A Cahill; D Hayes, E Stanton; C Stokes, K O’Connor, R Harkin; K Sheehan, C O’Riordan, K O’Sullivan.
T McEvoy for J McGuinness (48), P Herlihy for D Hayes (49), C Lynch for C Stokes (54), A Sheehan for K Sheehan (56).
M Burke; L Carroll, A O’Callaghan, K O’Sullivan; D Meaney, A Murphy, S Keating; S O’Keeffe, N Cashman; P Cronin, E Hegarty, D Cremin; C Sugrue, E Buckley, L O’Sullivan.
T Lenihan for A O’Callaghan (BC 17), M Drummond for D Cremin (27), T Deasy for C Sugrue, M Mulconry for E Buckley (both half-time), K Hegarty for L O’Sullivan (55), D Cremin for M Drummond (58).
David Murnane (Macroom)