Blackrock and Fr O’Neill’s served up a hurling classic at Kilfinane, a Munster club intermediate championship quarter-final that defied the tough conditions for this time of the year and that was fully enjoyed by the huge crowd at the Blackrock venue.
In the end, the home support didn’t have a victory to savour but they fully appreciated the efforts of their team, and that of Fr O’Neill’s who had to use every ounce of energy and determination to come away with the hardest fought two-point win.
The Cork side looked likely victors holding a three-point lead at the end of normal time. However, in the fourth minute of stoppage, Kevin Palmer was fouled for a penalty and Gavin O’Loughlin made sure of the goal to force extra time – O’Loughlin is a former senior club championship winner with Sarsfields in Cork.
Fr O’Neill’s then overcoming the extra-time challenge. Joint manager Dave Colbert acknowledged his boys had to ‘dig in big time’.
“The ground was heavy. It takes it out of the legs every step you take. We brought on subs with fresh legs, and then we brought fellas back on. Our fitness stood to us, but the field is in good condition considering the weather.
“When you travel up to Limerick and a home venue for the opposition, you are in for a battle and that is what we had today. We are just delighted to get out of it.”
This was a contest that sparkled from the off. The Jimmy Quilty managed Blackrock, who were crowned Limerick champions the previous week, laid down a marker shooting three quick points before Fr O’Neill’s got in for their opening score in the ninth minute, a goal registered by Billy Dunne after he was picked out by Mark O’Keeffe.
Points from captain and free-taker Paudie Leahy, Ruairi O’Shaughnessy and Dylan Dawson ensured Blackrock went toe to toe with the visitors. It wasn’t until the 27th minute that O’Neill’s got their noses in front when Declan Dalton netted, Dunne on hand to supply the pass.
By the end of the half, Fr O’Neill’s had earned themselves a three-point cushion, 2-6 to 0-9.
The second half turned into a real dogfight. The Cork titleholders managed to edge it, 2-9 to 0-13 at the end of a dogged third quarter. It was noteworthy that all the O’Neill’s flags came from Dalton frees.
Blackrock, meanwhile, were chipping away at the lead. And at this stage, you could sense both credentials would be severely tested.
The two defences were doing their bit too.
In the 55th minute, there was a huge roar from the home fans when the hard-working Dave Moloney linked up with Simon Hennessy to fire a wonderful levelling score.
It was all to play for now. But the going was increasingly tough, still no player shirked their duties. Every inch was fought for. Points from Liam O’Driscoll and a fantastic effort from Dalton edged O’Neill’s two clear with three minutes of stoppage signalled. A Dalton 65 put them three up.
Blackrock continued to send in long high ball and it paid off when Kevin Palmer was fouled for a penalty, and O’Loughlin obliged in the 64th minute, 2-12 to 1-15.
It was a question of stamina now.
The east Cork men took the game to Blackrock in extra time and resumed with points from Tomás Millerick, Jason Hankard and Dalton – all of their substitutions too showing their worth. At the end of the first period of extra time, they led 2-17 to 1-16.
Blackrock were not finished yet. Leahy rounded off a fine passage of play to close the gap to one. But they couldn’t get any closer. Joe Millerick coming back on to put daylight between two great teams.
Broadford of Clare are next up, a game that will be played in Castletownroche on Sunday.
Scorers for Blackrock: P Leahy (0-7, 0-5 frees), R O’Shaughnessy (0-5), G O’Loughlin (1-1, 1-0 pen), D Dawson (0-3), K Palmer (0-2), M Farrell (free) and D Moloney (0-1 each).
Scorers for Fr O’Neill’s: D Dalton (1-9, 0-7 frees, 0-1 65), B Dunne (1-1), M O’Keeffe (0-3), T Millerick (0-2), J Millerick, K O’Sullivan, L O’Driscoll and J Hankard (0-1 each).
BLACKROCK: R Murphy; I O’Brien, R McCarthy, S Hennessy; M Farrell, B Moloney, L Walsh; D Moloney, P Leahy (Capt); R O’Shaughnessy, G O’Loughlin, A Cooke; D Dawson, K Palmer, D Heffernan.
Subs: C O’Keeffe for A Cooke (46), D O’Flaherty for C O’Keeffe (4 ET), B O’Shaughnessy for D Heffernan (half-time ET).
FR O'NEILLS: C Sloane; M Millerick, Adrian Kenneally, G Millerick; J Barry, D Harrington (Joint-Capt), T Millerick; J Millerick, K O’Sullivan; M O’Keeffe (Joint-Capt), R Cullinane, P McMahon; E Conway, D Dalton, B Dunne.
Subs: Adam Kenneally for Adrian Kenneally (22 inj), L O’Driscoll for E Conway (40), J Hankard for R Cullinane (45), C Broderick for J Millerick (52), P Butler for J Barry (53), J Barry for Adam Kenneally (ET), J Millerick for P McMahon (half time ET), R Cullinane for C Broderick (18 ET).
Referee: Philip Kelly (Tipperary).