Daly predicts ‘battle royal’ as Rangers square up to Knocknagree

Knocknagree manager John Fintan Daly is expecting a ‘battle royal’ in tomorrow night’s eagerly awaited Cork IFC final at Páirc Uí Rinn (7pm).

Daly predicts ‘battle royal’ as Rangers square up to Knocknagree

Knocknagree manager John Fintan Daly is expecting a ‘battle royal’ in tomorrow night’s eagerly awaited Cork IFC final at Páirc Uí Rinn (7pm). Gabriel Rangers are in the opposite corner, and when these sides met in the county junior A football championship semi-final in 2016, areplay was required to separate them.

The west Cork club, from Ballydehob and Schull, went on to win the county final that year. The Duhallow men, meanwhile, worked their way back to be crowned Cork, Munster and All-Ireland champions the following season.

“We consider this a real test,” said Daly. “We believe the game to be 50/50. There was one point between us three years ago in a tight battle. This will be another right battle. Gabriel Rangers are there on merit. It will be all on the night.”

There is no denying Knocknagree have been hitting the high notes this year. They won promotion to Division 3 of the League – defeating Gabriel Rangers along the way by a hard-fought two points – and they have posted some impressive scores as they progressed.

They started the ball rolling in mid-April with a nine-point preliminary round victory over Kildorrery. This was followed by comfortable wins over Youghal and Ballinora. Aghabullogue were taken care of in the quarter-final, but it was their ruthless demolition of Millstreet in the semi-final that sent out a real message of intent.

“Was I surprised? Yes. I expected Millstreet to turn up. It was one of those days you can’t explain, they just didn’t show up. Our group is very focused. Eighteen months ago, our average age was 23½. The likely starting team we will have in the final, our average age will be under 23. We have five 19-year olds in contention to start.

There is great unity, great honesty, great work-ethic among the players. They are all good lads. They have been together 120 times this year and we had never less than 30 players each time. They are very humble. We play direct football where we work the ball from end to end.

Three of the four semi-finalists in this grade involved Duhallow clubs, which proves the strength of the game within the division. And Duhallow going all the way to the senior county final last Sunday is further testament. Five Knocknagree players made the starting 15 and there were some more on the panel – this also made for a fairly hectic schedule.

There was the disappointment of losing that senior final to Nemo Rangers last weekend. Would this affect the Knocknagree players, especially considering such a quick turnaround?

“They pick themselves up very quickly. I have been with Duhallow over the years, and the players are playing at the highest possible level. Between club and division, these Knocknagree lads will be playing championship for six successive weeks. But there is no complaining. We have prepared well. The disappointment of losing to Nemo won’t put them off, they will park that.”

Plenty of experience too was built up during a productive 2017, culminating in an All-Ireland junior club title in early 2018 against Westmeath side Multyfarnham after a high-scoring decider at Croke Park.

There were several times in that campaign Knocknagree refused to be beaten. They also bridged a 10-year gap that day since Canovee brought national honours to the Rebel county. Once again, they will look to a dependable defence, backed up by capable goalkeeper Patrick Doyle.

A unit that is complemented by a free-flowing attack including Cork senior Eoghan McSweeney and their All Ireland winning inspirational captain Matthew Dilworth. Both teams are guaranteed Premier intermediate status next year, but the Duhallow men will be looking to go up accompanied by the coveted trophy.

“It is unusual, for the first time in my life the reward is already won,” says Daly. “We are promoted to Premier intermediate next year, no matter the outcome. We want to go there as champions.”

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