‘Divisions are the lifeblood of small Cork clubs’

The last man to lead Duhallow to a Cork senior football title has robustly defended the involvement of divisional teams in the county championship.

‘Divisions are the lifeblood of small Cork clubs’

The last man to lead Duhallow to a Cork senior football title has robustly defended the involvement of divisional teams in the county championship.

This evening at Páirc Uí Rinn (7.45pm), Castlehaven and Duhallow meet in the Cork semi-final second replay, their third meeting in the space of 13 days.

The Duhallow team which started last Sunday’s 2-15 to 1-18 drawn encounter comprised of players from six clubs (Ballydesmond, Kanturk, Knocknagree, Millstreet, Newmarket and Rockchapel), two of which ply their trade in the premier intermediate grade. It’s a divisional outfit packed with footballers who have worn the Cork jersey at senior level, namely Bart Daly, Kevin Crowley, John McLoughlin, Lorcán McLoughlin, Aidan Walsh and Donncha O’Connor.

John Fintan Daly, who oversaw Duhallow’s back-to-back county title success in 1990 and 1991, knows there isn’t a huge amount of love for divisional teams at the moment, particularly after Imokilly, a team laden with household names, so comfortably defended their Cork hurling crown last weekend.

But Daly, who served as Duhallow football manager from 1986-98, believes divisional teams “keep the GAA alive in small clubs”.

“They are, in many ways, the lifeblood of small clubs in Cork. It is not a player’s fault that he is born into a small club. These clubs have small populations and not much by the way of resources, so can never really aspire to be a senior club.

“Divisional teams competing in the Cork senior championship bring up the standard of that competition. And it isn’t as if divisional teams will dominate or are dominating (Carbery, in 2004, were the last division to win the Cork SFC).

“It is only at this time of year that Duhallow can compete with the top clubs because the clubs feeding into the Duhallow team are out of their own respective championships.

“There are a lot of high fences in front of a divisional team. When Duhallow played Nemo Rangers in last year’s semi-final, a game they lost by 16 points, 11 of the panel had played a game the previous day. Looking after a divisional team, at the best of times, is hard. If it was easy, we’d at least see divisional teams winning the county championship on a regular basis.”

The former Duhallow boss, currently looking after a Knocknagree side which he guided to All-Ireland junior glory earlier this year, also makes the point that the participation of divisions in the Cork SFC puts players in the shop window who wouldn’t otherwise be spotted.

“Kerry have a divisional system and it is one of the main reasons why they have been so successful down through the years. It allows them to find players from small clubs that nobody has heard of and might never have heard of had they not got the chance to play senior club football through their division.

“In a county that has 260-odd clubs, if you restrict your senior championship to senior clubs, then all you are going to have is 10-12% of your players playing senior championship.

“Take Duhallow goalkeeper Patrick Doyle. He is 21 and was one of the standout players of the replay, making four outstanding saves. He hasn’t played with Cork. That is just one example of a player who suddenly appears out of nowhere and is displaying his abilities in a Cork senior semi-final. That would have possibly never happened with his club because his club might never get that far.”

Whoever comes through this third instalment, next Sunday’s county final against St Finbarr’s will be their fourth consecutive weekend inside the whitewash. Daly is adamant last weekend’s replay, which included extra-time, should have not concluded without a winner. A free-taking competition has been trialled at inter-county level when two counties remain deadlocked after extra-time. Daly’s suggestion is to have a second period of extra-time, with the team who scores first advancing.

“What we have trialled in a U21 competition in Duhallow is a means of finishing the game on the day. It is sudden death, next score wins.

“It is very hard for amateur players to go into a county final having played on the three previous weekends. If this second replay is a draw, are they going to force them to play on Tuesday night and then make them go back out for the final on Sunday.”

If there is to be a winner this evening, who is he leaning towards?

“Realistically, you’d have to expect Duhallow to have more on the bench. Duhallow have players coming off the bench that are quality players.

“The replay and the anticipation surrounding this second replay has been a real shot in the arm for Cork football because Cork football is not in a good place.”

- Eir sport will broadcast live the Limerick SHC final next Saturday between Na Piarsaigh and Doon.

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