It’s Tuesday evening in the East Cork village and Storm Ophelia, having come and gone a day earlier without dislodging too many roof slates, is only now being felt — electricity gave out shortly after 7pm.
The Imokilly hurlers are en route for their second last training session ahead of Sunday’s Cork senior decider, but there’s no need for a late change of venue. St Catherine’s floodlights are run by a diesel generator so their hour’s work proceeds without any disruption.
Above in the clubhouse, there’s an emergency light which illuminates a small room where club secretary Eleanor Galvin serves ham sandwiches, biscuits, buns and a cup of team. It’s a fair welcome, given the circumstances. Symbolic, almost, of the changed attitude towards the division.
Fergal Condon sits up onto what appears to be an old physio table in the club’s meeting room. We can’t tell exactly. That we can barely see each other is hardly ideal for a county final chat, but everyone is making do this evening. That almost 30 lads togged in and togged out in near total darkness five days before the biggest afternoon in Cork hurling without a single whinge neatly captures the job Condon has done over the past three years.
When he arrived into the job in March of 2015, there was a blasé outlook towards hurling for Imokilly. Lads could take it or leave it. Those that did commit did so without much expectation. Advancing from the colleges/divisional section was the height of anyone’s ambition.
Condon, along with his backroom team, which includes two men — Derek Barrett and Jimmy Smiddy – who won two county medals with Imokilly in the mid-nineties, did away with all that.
“The division was somewhere where you wouldn’t like to see it,” the Imokilly manager begins.
“It was a case of putting respect back in the jersey, making people feel like it was an honour to wear it and that it can go to a level where it hasn’t been for a number of years. I feel we are on a good road.”
In 2015, they fell to Sars at the quarter-final hurdle. In 2016, they were rocked by the concession of an injury-time goal to Erin’s Own in the fourth round. Both teams went on to reach the final after knocking out the East Cork division. In 2017, Imokilly toppled both to book their place in the showpiece event for the first time in 16 years.
Condon’s squad of players is pulled from 12 different clubs. From the starting team which overcame Sars in last Saturday’s semi-final replay, eight clubs were represented. And yet Condon has repeatedly said his group resembles more a club than a divisional team.
“The camaraderie is phenomenal. There is nobody in our group who looks down on anyone else in our group.
“We’ve two young fellas still minor, Ger Mellerick and Liam O’Shea, and then you go all the way up to Barra Ó Tuama and Timmy Geaney, who have given Imokilly some service over the years. Obviously, you have the experienced lads like Brian Lawton, Seamie Harnedy and Will Leahy. Paudie [O’Sullivan] is Paudie, he has been outstanding all year. Colm Barry and Niall O’Leary are two more fine hurlers.
“Loads of people outside of Cork want to play us. That’s a sure sign that people are finding out who we are.
“I feel East Cork is the best barony in the country for hurling. It is a phenomenal place to grow up for hurling. We are all proud of it. It is time to show that on Sunday.”
“To get over the line and bridge a 19-year gap to their last success, Imokilly will probably need to shore up matters at the back where they’ve been leaking goals — they’ve conceded 16 in their last five games.
“Some of them have been so sloppy it is beyond belief. We just have to get those things right. If we’re in the right frame of mind on Sunday, what will happen if we don’t concede any goals?
“We’ve put in a lot of groundwork and always edging towards a day like this, hoping someday it would happen. It is up to us now what we do with it.”