Composure under pressure proved decisive as Midleton CBS secured a first Munster crown in 13 years at Páirc Uí Rinn on Saturday afternoon.
An all-Cork Harty Cup final in front of 7,000 people produced a pressure-filled environment few of these young hurlers had ever faced before.
And crucially the victors managed to overcome that obstacle on an afternoon where nerves and tension were in abundance.
Of course, that is not to say the young Midleton students finished proceedings with a staggeringly low error count and consistently took the right option. Indeed, the score which won them this game — and a fourth Harty Cup — followed a period of poor shooting that left their fans fearing a repeat of their 2018 heartbreak.
Following a Pádraig Power free for Christians on 47 minutes which tied matters for the eighth time, Midleton CBS enjoyed an outstanding spell. With their midfield and half-back line overrunning their opposite numbers, Midleton’s forward unit was spoilt in the supply of possession being fed to them. The problem was turning such ingredients into scores.
Gary Carroll and Joe Stack were both off target before Ryan McCarthy drilled a free wide of the CBC posts. When Carroll and Stack followed with further misses to bring their wide count into double figures, the groans from the Midleton supporters at a packed Páirc Uí Rinn grew louder.
Having failed to turn up for the 2018 decider, Midleton were in danger of throwing away the 2019 final and becoming the first school since St Flannan’s College in 2007 to lose back-to-back finals.
Then, on 53 minutes, the game-winner arrived. Midleton had once more gone long into their two-man inside line of Jason Hankard and Joe Stack, with the latter snapping up possession on the 20-metre line. His first effort for goal was superbly smothered by a diving red and black shirt, but, undeterred, Stack regained the sliotar, skipped past a defender and stuck the ball high into the roof of Cian Long’s net for a 2-10 to 0-13 lead.
This was Stack’s third Harty campaign as a first-team regular and having endured semi-final and final heartbreak in recent years, it was somewhat fitting the Kiltha Óg youngster should provide the critical goal.
Power converted his ninth free to pare the margin back to two, but when the same player missed a free, Midleton seized on the let-up and saw out the contest with a pair of Ross O’Regan frees. A 13-year wait bridged, but more importantly for captain Dylan Hogan and his teammates who were involved 12 months ago, several wrongs had been righted.
Level at 1-7 to 0-10 at the break, Jason Hankard’s deft flick for a Midleton goal on three minutes sustained them throughout an opening half where Christians were the better side. But, yet again, CBC were overly reliant on the Blarney trio of Hanlon, Power and Shane Barrett, with these three accounting for all but one of their 0-14 tally. That just 0-5 of that arrived from play was never going to be anywhere near sufficient.
Their energy levels, too, faded in the final quarter as Midleton both outran and outlasted them and, at the vital moments, showed the necessary smidgen of composure that perhaps stemmed from having been here the year previous.
R McCarthy (0-6, 0-5 frees, 0-1 ‘65); R O’Regan (0-4, 0-2 frees); J Stack (1-1); J Hankard (1-0); C Hickey (0-1).
P Power (0-10, 0-9 frees); D Hanlon (0-2); S Barrett, O McCarthy (0-1 each).
J McGann (Kiltha Óg); D Moran (Kiltha Óg), D Hogan (Killeagh), C O’Brien (Midleton); R Landers (Killeagh), C Joyce (Kiltha Óg), D Healy (Kiltha Óg); S Quirke (Midleton), R McCarthy (Killeagh); C Hickey (Lisgoold), G Carroll (Midleton), R O’Regan (Midleton); J Hankard (Fr O’Neill’s), J Stack (Kiltha Óg), K Farmer (Midleton).
O Broderick (Killeagh) for Landers (35 mins); A Nganou for Quirke (50); P Hassett (Fr O’Neill’s) for Hickey (59).
C Long (Glen Rovers); D Barry (Sarsfields), P Hennessy (Mallow), C O’Donovan (Douglas); C Daly (Lismore), I Daly (Lismore), G Mulcahy (Glen Rovers); D Hanlon (Blarney), K Finn (Midleton); O McCarty (Inniscarra), N Hartnett (Douglas), S Barrett (Blarney); J Cahalane (St Finbarr’s), J O’Kelly (St Finbarr’s), P Power (Blarney).
J Scally (Bishopstown) for McCarthy (50); R Cotter (Blackrock) for O’Kelly (59); C Murphy (Sarsfields) for Mulcahy (63).
J Murphy (Limerick).