Not since Blackrock overcame Imokilly back in 2001 has a team struck four goals on the concluding afternoon of the Cork hurling championship.
Yesterday, it was the turn of the East Cork division to wreak such havoc on the opposition goal, each goal propelling the winners off into the distance just as Midleton had reeled them in to within touching distance of their coat-tails.
On these pages last Saturday, we mentioned how imperative it was that Midleton unsettled Imokilly in the early stages, forced them to chase proceedings in a manner in which they had not been asked to do so all year. Instead, a Mark O’Keeffe delivery into the Midleton danger area after two minutes slipped past the black and white shirts on guard and into the right paw of Paudie O’Sullivan. The Imokilly full-forward, who simply could not believe his luck, did the needful and Midleton were off to the worst possible start.
An O’Sullivan point, sandwiched by a Bill Cooper pair, had the favourites 1-3 to 0-1 clear by the eighth minute. The portents were not encouraging from a Midleton perspective.
Points from Harnedy, set up by the ultra-effective Cooper, and Will Leahy reopened Imokilly’s five-point lead by the 16th minute, but there followed the Magpies’ first proper spell of dominance, during which Luke O’Farrell, after a fine catch, Cormac Walsh and Lehane (a free from inside his own half) sent over three-in-a-row to pare the deficit to 1-6 to 0-7. The latter had been somewhat erratic in his shooting early on, tallying three wides, but focused the radar thereafter. Still, Cork forward Lehane will have been somewhat disappointed to contribute just a single point from play.
Two points was as close as Midleton came of their opponents all afternoon long, were allowed come of their opponents. Indeed, no sooner were we settling into the makings of a decent contest, thanks in the main to Midleton’s sustained pressure on the Imokilly defence, when Seamus Harnedy plucked a nothing delivery from the sky, brushed off Seán O’Leary Hayes, stepped inside another defender and unleashed a rasping shot to the corner of Tommy Wallace’s net.
Back out to five went their lead (2-6 to 0-7) and this was a pattern which would repeat itself time and again as the final, watched by 10,214 patrons, wore on.
On 27 minutes, a Seán O’Leary Hayes clearance was superbly fielded by Patrick White, the corner-forward went around his marker and succeeded in halving the Imokilly advantage from six to three. But no further inroads they did make.
Harnedy, leading as he did throughout, posted a swift reply, following this with a fine on-the-run and off-the-hurley effort on the South Stand side.
The interval scoreline read 2-11 to 1-9 in favour of the divisional outfit, but the gap was once more whittled to two as Lehane (free), Walsh and O’Farrell struck three without reply. O’Farrell should have bagged a second goal just before this three-point burst, a lack of conviction in his shot affording Dara O’Callaghan a comfortable save.
Irrespective, and beyond their three consecutive white flags, Midleton were finally getting under their opponents’ skin. Lehane clattered into Bill Cooper when knocking the sliotar away from his Cork teammate which led to O’Farrell’s second score of the final. Up the other end, Paudie O’Sullivan was guilty of a poor wide.
It was as if the tide, though slowly, was turning.
Bang. Imokilly goal number three. The gap, again, five.
A low ball in by Cooper skidded past Will Leahy and Eoghan Moloney, Paudie O’Sullivan pouncing to register his second and their third.
The subsequent action delivered a fifth Seamus Harnedy point and on 41 minutes, it was game over, the reigning champions nabbing a second goal in the space of two minutes. Leahy and Brian Lawton were involved in the build-up, with Shane Hegarty finishing what was a sweeping move. 4-13 to 1-13 read the scoreboard.
Midleton’s charge ground to a halt. They’d nothing more to give.
Of the closing nine points, six arrived into the Blackrock End which Imokilly were attacking. Their forward unit supplied 4-11 from play over the hour. Compare this to the 1-11 offered up by the Midleton front six. Though it probably doesn’t need repeating at this stage, the goals were the seminal difference. Where three was sufficient last year when squeezing past Blackrock, four was ample on this occasion.
The Midleton rearguard won’t reflect kindly on three of those goals, Imokilly breaching the last line of defence far too easily.
What should be of concern to every other club, college and division in the county is that Imokilly were able to string together back-to-back titles for the second time in their history while changing almost half of their starting line-up from 12 months ago. That they could afford to leave Cork U21 centre-forward Declan Dalton and 2017 Cork minor Ger Millerick on the bench speaks volumes of the depth of talent in the East Cork division.
Only the Rockies, the Barr’s and the Glen have managed three-in-a-row. That’s now the goal for these Imokilly men.
Scorers for Imokilly: S Harnedy (1-6); P O’Sullivan (2-1); W Leahy (0-5, 0-2 frees, 0-1’ 65); B Cooper (0-4); S Hegarty (1-1); D Dalton, Barry Lawton (0-1 each).
Scorers for Midleton: C Lehane (0-7, 0-6 frees); C Walsh (0-4); P White (1-1); L O’Farrell (0-3); C Beausang, P Haughney S O’Meara (0-1 each).
IMOKILLY: D O’Callaghan (Watergrasshill); M Russell (Aghada), C Barry (Castlelyons), C Spillane (Castlelyons); C O’Brien (St Ita’s), N O’Leary (Castlelyons), J Cronin (Lisgoold); B Cooper (Youghal), M O’Keeffe (Fr O’Neill’s); Brian Lawton (Castlemartyr), S Harnedy (St Ita’s), S Hegarty (Dungourney); W Leahy (Aghada), P O’Sullivan (Cloyne), Barry Lawton (Castlemartyr).
Subs: G Millerick (Fr O’Neill’s) for O’Keeffe (48); D Dalton (Fr O’Neill’s) for Barry Lawton (52); D Mangan for Harnedy (66, inj).
MIDLETON: T Wallace; E Moloney, F O’Mahoney, S Smyth; L Dineen, S O’Leary Hayes, J Nagle; P Haughney, S O’Farrell; L O’Farrell, C Walsh, C Beausang; S O’Meara, C Lehane, P White.
Subs: P Nagle for O’Meara (HT); T O’Connell for P White (43); R O’Regan for O’Mahoney (45).
Referee: D Kirwan (Éire Óg).