Before you make your position known you had better state your terms.
Where do you stand on the quality of yesterday’s Cork county final?
This was a game which had a lot of the constituent elements of a potential classic at about a minute to four. Strong favourites in an experienced Imokilly side, confident underdogs in the Glen Rovers team; some of the best strikers in the game, all present and correct; a sprinkling of established county names as well
as youngsters in a hurry to claim a Cork jersey.
At about a minute to six we had seen a stop-start game with plenty of stoppages, lengthy consultations among the officials, a few yellow cards which might have - and in three cases should have - led to red cards, a mentor sent to the stands, a significant defensive error leading to a game-changing score at the end of the first half - and a significant defensive error leading — almost — to a game-changing score at the end of the second half.
Yet we also got huge entertainment. The game was hard-fought and there to be won deep into injury time, contrary to predictions all week that the champions would make it three in a row comfortably.
This is not to say that justice wasn’t done, by the way. Imokilly were that bit better than the Glen’ they were physically powerful, efficient in attack and didn’t panic when the challengers came knocking on the door late on. In other finals the margin has been more emphatic, but yesterday they showed their mettle and dug deep when pushed.
And the Glen pushed them all the way. Backed by what sounded like most of the 5,536 in Páirc Uí Rinn, the city side left it all on the field and came agonisingly close to glory.
In the cold light of day yesterday’s first half looked much as predicted. As the teams went in for the cup of tea the scoreboard read 2-10 to 1-7 in favour of the divisional side, with a late burst of 1-5 from Imokilly helping them to that comfortable lead.
The devil, as always, is in the detail. Glen Rovers didn’t pay much attention to their opponents’ reputation in the very early stages and Conor Dorris almost broke through for what would have been the ideal start in the first minute. Just after the ten-minute mark Donal Cronin blasted home from a narrow angle to push the Glen 1-2 to 0-4 ahead and all of Blackpool — which seemed yesterday to relocate to Ballinlough — was in full cry.
Enter Harold McMillan’s great leveller: events, dear boy, events. Imokilly attacked from the puck-out and referee Nathan Wall gave Imokilly a free for an off-the-ball entanglement involving Paudie O’Sullivan, preparing the way for one of the better turns of county final theatre - whether to go for goal or not.
This was compounded yesterday by the presence of Declan Dalton in the white and red stripes of Imokilly. Dalton’s striking is so pure that umpires are inclined to keep the flag handy any time he goes near a dead ball within one100 metres of the target. Yesterday he was a good deal closer and drilled the ball low to the corner of the net.
This became something of a pattern in the game, Imokilly’s ability to keep out of the Glen’s reach, and their fusillade late in the first half seemed to confirm to the expected narrative: a brave early burst from the challengers which would be smoothly dispatched by the champions.
During the week Glen manager Richie Kelleher said Blackpool loves a challenge and yesterday they answered the challenge. On the resumption the Glen had three points in a row from Patrick Horgan and almost shaved the deficit to two, only for a Glen score to be scratched following a lengthy discussion among most of the match officials present.
Imokilly were glad of the driving play of captain Seamus Harnedy, Bill Cooper and John Cronin at this stage, because the challengers were staying on their heels. The difference, however, was that Imokilly were able to pick off scores with less difficulty than the Glen, the three players mentioned above giving them a valuable edge around the middle of the field.
Deep in injury time, however, the Glen played their last card, moving Robert Downey to the edge of the squar e— the tall youngster almost rescued the game with a sensational late intervention, booting the sliotar just the wrong side of the post. From the puck-out Imokilly sub Shane O’Regan Óg pushed the divisional side four points ahead, clinching the title.
There was a bittersweet tinge to the proceedings as Imokilly manager Fergal Condon stepped down after three hugely successful years, while promotions mean the east Cork side will have a very different make-up next year.
At the full time whistle Condon spoke highly of the quality of yesterday’s game: “When I was a young fella growing up people said hurling in Cork had dipped, that championship hurling wasn’t at the level it could be at, where were the divisions and what were they at . ..
“What you saw out there today, lads going at it hammer and tongs, no quarter asked or given on either side, and I believe the game is safe.
“Both sides played on the edge today and I suppose our little bit of sharpness and our talent paid off in the end. But the Glen have been unbelievable champions in the past and I have no doubt they will be again.”
His opposite number was equally generous “If we’d gone in at two or three points down we would have had huge momentum,” said Richie Kelleher.
“As it was we were six down. I felt if we got level we might have been driven on by the crowd, but every time we got close we had couple of wides, some decisions went against us, and we just couldn’t get level “They were able to respond, when we got close they were able to break away and get scores, which is the mark of a good team. And Imokilly are a very good team, we saw that today.”
The depth of quality out past the Jack Lynch Tunnel means few would bet against Imokilly having - at the very least - an influence on where the Sean Óg Murphy Cup spends next autumn as well as this.
Few would bet against the Glen having a significant influence on next year’s county championship either, though this morning will be dominated by regrets, not to mention the headache of rising themselves to go to Tipperary for the Munster club hurling championship in a couple of weeks.
But as Kelleher said, Blackpool loves a challenge.
For the domestic game in Cork though yesterday may have been a more promising showcase than some of the recent predecessors, however.
The hardness of the battle may be taken as a glint of promise by the incoming Cork senior intercounty management with the Munster league looming on the horizon. Summer remains a distant prospect but omens are welcome any time of the year.