Fr O’Neill’s held off Blarney in today’s tense Cork PIHC semi-final at Páirc Uí Rinn.
Leading at half-time by 1-13 to 1-3, the East Cork side had the first score of the second half but a revitalised Blarney came back strongly after that. When Cork star Mark Coleman landed his eighth point of the game, a 65 in the 64th minute, there was just a point between the sides but O’Neill’s didn’t panic and Cillian Broderick set up fellow sub Liam O’Driscoll for the clinching score.
Fr O’Neill’s joint-manager Bryan Sweeney admitted that it wasn’t always comfortable but he felt that the win will stand to his side.
“We are delighted,” he said, “whether you win by one point or ten points, that’s the main thing.
“While it’s not always nice, when you’re in a real dogged battle you learn the character or your players and your club and how you can come through.”
The game began with a bang, each side scoring a goal inside the first two minutes.
First, Billy Dunne struck for O’Neill’s within 15 seconds of the game starting, but 70 seconds later Shane Barrett had matched that for Blarney.
However, it provided false expectations of a titanic first-half tussle, with the East Cork side instead taking control. Declan Dalton had his eye in from frees for O’Neill’s while centre-back Dan Harrington was prominent and Pádraig MacMahon did much to limit Coleman’s impact at the other end.
When Dalton got his fifth point in the 24th minute, O’Neill’s led by 1-8 to 1-1 and Kevin O’Sullivan and Eoin Conway had late scores as they established a ten-point interval advantage.
As he had done in the first half, Dunne struck early after the restart, pointing to increase the lead to 11 points, but Blarney began to get a foothold. Coleman’s long-range free set in motion a series of six points, with him and Alan McEvoy having a lot of influence around the middle while Barrett, Ray Murphy, Declan Hanlon and Pádraig Power made their presence felt upfront.
While Dalton and McMahon had O’Neill’s points to punctuate the Blarney dominance, the deficit continued to contract and a free from Coleman was followed by a fine effort from play to leave it 1-16 to 1-13 with ten minutes left.
Coleman might have found the goal needed to wipe out the lead, goalkeeper Colin Sloane denying him, and though the intercounty man had his sixth point to leave two in it, O’Neil’ls looked to have quelled the fightback as Dalton (two) and sub Jason Hankard pointed to make it 1-19 to 1-14 with five left.
Blarney battled on, though. McEvoy and Hanlon both their third points to leave two in it in injury time and Joe Jordan’s delivery nearly dropped for Hanlon in goalscoring range but Harrington ntervened. Coleman sent over the resultant 65 to but the deficit to the minimum but it was the closest they came and O’Driscoll secured the win for O’Neill’s.
Sweeney wasn’t surprised that Blarney came back so strongly, but praised the way his team held out.
“We knew Blarney wouldn’t lie down because they have character and they have stars all over the pitch. All those fellas stood up, they have real grit and determination but so do our fellas. Forwards and midfielders probably win a game for you, but defences stop you from losing. It was a real battle.”
D Dalton 0-11 (0-5 frees, 0-1 65, 0-1 sideline), B Dunne 1-1, K O’Sullivan 0-2, M O’Keeffe, R Cullianne, P McMahon, E Conway, L O’Driscoll, J Hankard 0-1 each.
M Coleman 0-9 (0-5 frees, 0-1 65, 0-1 sideline), S Barrett 1-1, D Hanlon, A McEvoy 0-3 each, P Power 0-2.
C Sloane; M Millerick, G Millerick, Adam Kenneally; J Barry, D Harrington, Adrian Kenneally; M O’Keeffe, K O’Sullivan; R Cullinane, P McMahon, E Conway; J Millerick, D Dalton, B Dunne.
P Butler for Adrian Kenneally (25-half-time, blood), L O’Driscoll for Conway, J Hankard for J Millerick (both 36), C Broderick for Adam Kenneally (54), Butler for Adrian Kenneally (58).
P Hallissey; S Crowley, P O’Leary, A McEvoy; J Jordan, C Power, D McSweeney, P Philpott, M Coleman; R Murphy, P Crowley, D Hanlon; K Costello, P Power, S Barrett.
D Dunlea for Costello (half-time).
M Maher (St Finbarr’s).