A sense of history repeating

The Imokilly press evening was winding down when the division’s successes of the nineties were recalled.

A sense of history repeating

By Michael Moynihan

The Imokilly press evening was winding down when the division’s successes of the nineties were recalled.

Seamus Harnedy was only eight when the east Cork men won the title 20 years ago. He was hardly able to remember that autumn day, though. Was he?

“I remember going alright,” said Harnedy. “My parents brought me to all the games and I knew who the players were — Mark Landers from up the road would have been playing, so there was a strong local interest.

“I have memories of the games alright, playing Blackrock in 1998 in particular — the old Páirc Uí Chaoimh, sprinting onto the field for the old pitch invasion and all of that.”

There are reminders not too far away when Harnedy sits down in the (new) Páirc Uí Chaoimh dressing room tomorrow. Derek Barrett of Cobh played on those Imokilly sides; now he’s a selector with the division.

“They were great days, we had a very good team. A lot of the lads had come up through the Cork minors — the likes of Dónal Óg Cusack, Diarmuid O’Sullivan, Timmy McCarthy had come through at the same time, and had then progressed to the Cork U21 side, so there was a lot of talent there.”

Barrett figured on the Imokilly side which went down to Avondhu in the 1996 championship final — which went to a replay. Good preparation for the next two seasons.

“To be honest, those years went by in a whirlwind, we were contesting semi-finals and finals year on year. At the time playing with Imokilly, it was a driving force to get on Cork U21 and senior teams. We were doing well with Cobh but we weren’t getting to intermediate county finals, so playing in the senior championship with Imokilly was my shop window.”

One of the names you’d have associated with that crop of players didn’t figure, though.

Joe Deane of Killeagh was wearing a different jersey in the senior hurling championship then. I was playing for UCC that time, but it was clear how strong Imokilly were, I would have played with and against all those lads.

“It also indicated how strong hurling was in east Cork around that time. One indication was the success in the senior championship, obviously enough, but the impact those players had on their clubs was obvious too. Clubs like Castlelyons, Cloyne, ourselves in Killeagh — all of us would have progressed up to senior in the seasons immediately after Imokilly won those counties.”

The quality filtered upwards as well.

“Cork won a National League in 1998,” says Barrett. “There were a lot of Imokilly players on that team, and the fact that they’d been playing in the county final the year before had to help in terms of visibility.”

Deane added: “Getting to 1998, certainly, that core of lads on the Imokilly team would have been on the Cork senior team or panel, and the fact that they had won those couple of senior county titles certainly strengthened the relationships between the players, for one thing. That was a help with Cork. So when Cork went out of the Munster championship pretty early, which would have happened in 1996, 1997, 1998 - first-round, second-round exits - the Imokilly lads fell back in together and were getting to county finals.

“That meant hurling on to October or so year on year at a time when, really, once the club was gone in the summer a fella mightn’t play hurling again until the National League started up again in November or December.

“There was a knock-on immediately because those lads were coming back to Cork with good fitness, good touch, they’d had the success winning a county title . . . they were coming in confident.”

The parallels between this Imokilly crop and the version 20 years ago isn’t lost on Barrett.

“Shane Supple (GDA) had the player profiles the other evening and the team’s quite young, as it was in 1997-8. Obviously we have experienced lads like Seamie (Harnedy), the way Mark Landers was around to guide the younger lads 20 years ago.”

Deane points to some other similiarities, such as the spread of talent in the division these days: “Look at it this way, Aghada have done well in the intermediate, as have Fr O’Neill’s this year. Youghal have come back to intermediate from senior while the likes of Castlemartyr have done well in junior. The parallel is with the clubs like Cloyne, Carrigtwohill, Killeagh and Castlelyons, which were all going well at the same time as Imokilly won those counties.”

It’s not all positive, of course. There are rumbles about the array of talent available to the east Cork side.

“Unquestionably there’s a view out there that’s against Imokilly,” says Deane.

“I’ve no doubt if you asked a lot of people in Cork, most of them would prefer to see a club win the county.

“But there’s another view as well — the divisions can raise the standard of the championship, and a division gives players from junior and intermediate clubs a chance to play a higher level which in turn improves standards . . . there are positives as well.

“Another obvious point is that Imokilly won those two counties and were dominating — but then they faded again when so many of those players went up senior with their clubs. How many divisions have been really competitive in the 20 years since those championships were won, Imokilly included?”

East to East — Midleton and Imokilly do battle in Cork

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