After that brisk dismissal of UCC in the Cork SHC semi-final, Imokilly are warm favourites to make it back to back titles on Sunday. Colm Spillane isn’t buying that, though. The Castlelyons and Cork defender knows well that opponents Midleton won’t lie down this weekend.
“Not at all,” says Spillane. “Anyway, if you’re playing games all your life, then you’re going to be hit with the favourites tag every now and again.
“I’m new to it this year but there’s a very good set-up with Imokilly, and there are very experienced lads involved, lads who played with Cork before and who play for Cork now.
“We know the threat posed by Midleton - they’re a very good side, as a club side they’re used to playing together all the time. They’ll have their homework done on us and it’s going to be a big challenge.”
Spillane joined the white and red stripes this year after starring with his club - and with UCC. Was it strange, then, to be facing the College in this year’s semi-final?
“It was a bit unusual - I really enjoyed my time in UCC and I met John Grainger (UCC Gaelic games officer) afterwards, he gave me a hug.
“Obviously you’re going to be close to fellas when you’re in college with them for five years, so it’s going to be a bit unusual playing against them then, but in training and matches you’re all the time playing against lads you’re friendly with. When you cross the white line you try to do your best and forget about all of that.”
Imokilly is another form of outlet - an important one for developing players from junior and intermediate clubs.
“I think so. I know people might give out about the divisions from time to time but players from junior clubs and smaller intermediate clubs don’t get the opportunity to perform in front of big crowds in Páirc Uí Chaoimh that often. It’s a great opportunity for them. I know that some clubs might feel the panel we have to pick from is stronger than the pick they might have, but Imokilly haven’t been that successful over the years.
“We won the county last year and a couple in the 90s, so it’s not like we’ve won loads of titles. We just have a good panel at the moment.”
And, he adds, it’s down to hard work being done in the area: “There’s a lot of work being done in east Cork, there are GDAs in east Cork and so on who put in a lot of work in primary schools, for instance, and now the divisional team is reaping the benefits of that.
“East Cork has always been a hurling stronghold and there are a lot of smaller clubs there. I remember playing U16 and minor against big city clubs which probably had a bigger playing population than us, and back then we probably felt that was unfair.
“The work has been done in Imokilly, though, and now we’re reaping the rewards.”
Is there an extra edge, given it’s a derby?
Maybe there is, though if so it’s probably more for Midleton than us because they’re right in the middle of the division. They’d be hearing it from all sides, but obviously as an all-east Cork final, there’s probably a bit more of an edge to it.
Spillane’s hurling doesn’t end on Sunday. He and his Cork teammates head to Boston next month for the Fenway Classic. “It’s great, any time you get to play hurling abroad is great. It’s a unique occasion, we worked very hard this year even though it ended in disappointment. It’s great to get the chance to promote Gaelic games overseas and we’re really looking forward to it. After a long year of training I don’t think a week away is too much, it’s well deserved.”
Meanwhile Ian O’Regan, who announced his retirement from inter-county hurling earlier this week, is understood to be on the verge of joining Waterford senior hurling manager Paraic Fanning’s backroom team as a goalkeeping coach. O’Regan, who made his senior championship debut in the 2004 All-Ireland semi-final against Kilkenny, also started in former manager Derek McGrath’s last game in charge of Waterford, this summer’s Munster SHC clash with Cork.