Fr O’Neill’s will be hoping it is a case of third time lucky next month after securing their place in a third consecutive Cork Senior A hurling final.
Beaten finalists in the 2020 and 21 deciders, Fr O’Neill’s have several ghosts to lay to rest in the decider against Courcey Rovers, a side they had seven to spare over when they crossed paths in Group B last month.
Fr O’Neills’ latest semi-final victory was attributable to a fourth quarter power surge that saw them hit 1-4 without reply between the 49th and 54th minute to pull 1-19 to 0-14 clear.
Right before this decisive and winning burst, William Finnegan (0-2, one free) and Shane O’Connor had thrown over three on the trot for Bride Rovers to close the deficit to the minimum. It was the closest they had come of their opponents since the end of the first half, but they were given no time to fashion an equaliser as Fr O’Neill’s rocked them back on their heels with a 1-4 knockout blow.
The goal, which arrived on 49 minutes, was finished by Billy Dunne - his fifth of the championship - after a superb through ball by Cillian Broderick.
Bride Rovers’ Shane O’Connor and Ronan O’Connell sought to stop the bleeding with a pair of white flags, but two wides directly after finished their evening.
Fr O’Neill’s, mind, were nowhere near finished, reeling off five-in-a-row in a dominant closing scene through Declan Dalton (two frees), Liam O’Driscoll, Kevin O’Sullivan, and Eoin Conway.
From the 49th minute to the final whistle, Fr O’Neill’s outscored their East Cork rivals by 1-9 to 0-2.
At the end of a tetchy and stop-start first half, it was Fr O’Neill’s who had their noses marginally in front on a scoreline of 0-10 to 0-8.
With Fr O’Neill’s having fallen behind for the first time on 21 minutes after a Bride Rovers three-in-a-row put them 0-7 to 0-6 in front, the men from Ballymacoda and Ladysbridge were impressive in their response as they swiftly returned in front thanks to four on the bounce from Declan Dalton (three frees) and Jason Hankard.
The last pair in this sequence will have greatly annoyed Bride Rovers as they were two wholly avoidable scores. The first was a short puckout which Eoin Roche illegally pawed on the floor, handing Dalton a most scoreable free.
Bride Rovers went short again from the ensuing restart, were turned over, and then fouled Dalton just outside the 20-metre line.
Both sides leaned heavily on a short-passing game, but with passes continually breaking down, this contributed to the first half proceedings lacking any great fluency. The shooting on either side was also less than precision, Fr O’Neill’s tallying eight wides to their opponents’ five. The only real goal chance of the half fell to Fr O’Neill’s, Bride Rovers goalkeeper Cian Hogan pushing away Billy Dunne’s tame groundstroke.
The winners were more clinical upon the change of ends, their improved directness drawing several frees that Dalton lasered between the Bride Rovers posts.
Will next month’s third final appearance finally bring them a happy ending?
D Dalton (0-11, 0-10 frees); B Dunne (1-2); T Millerick (0-3); J Hankard (0-2); D Harrington, K O’Sullivan, John Millerick, Joe Millerick, L O’Driscoll, E Conway (0-1 each).
W Finnegan (0-4, 0-1 free); A Walsh (0-1 free, 0-1 ‘65); P O’Flynn, S O’Connor (0-2 each); E Roche, K Kearney, D Dooley, R O’Connell, B Roche, C Ryan (0-1 each).
P O’Sullivan; M Millerick, S O’Connor, R Kenneally; M O’Keeffe, D Harrington, G Millerick; T Millerick, K O’Sullivan; J Hankard, D Dalton, Joe Millerick; John Millerick, C Broderick, B Dunne.
P McMahon for Joe Millerick (47); E Motherway for Kenneally (49); L O’Driscoll for John Millerick (57); P Hassett for Hankard (59); E Conway for Dunne (64).
C Hogan; T O’Sullivan, S Walsh, J Pratt; P O’Flynn, E Roche, S O’Connor; K Kearney, D Dooley; B Roche, R O’Connell, A Walsh; W Finnegan, C Ryan, C Tobin.
C O’Connor for Dooley (38); M Collins for A Walsh (43, inj).