For Knocknagree, the odyssey continues. Five years ago they were struggling to come out of the Duhallow junior football championship, now they find themselves 60 minutes away from the top tier of Cork football after they edged Clyda Rovers in a dramatic semi-final of the Bons Secours Cork SAFC in Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Saturday night.
What makes their journey even more remarkable is that just four weeks ago the possibility of relegation loomed over them before they beat Fermoy. Here, it was three late points from Eoghan McSweeney (2) and Fintan O’Connor that saw them home, but in a tight game like this the true nature of the team came through according to their manager, John Fintan Daly.
“They just don’t give up. It shows that we’ve developed a culture, that we’ve developed a bond, we’ve a playing style. We kick the ball, put the foot into the football if we can, that’s the way we like to play. We’ve great self-belief, fellas have no ideas about themselves, they’re not above their station and we’ve had to play in this championship without some of our best players. It's a fantastic fairytale, and I couldn’t be prouder of them.
“They’ve had a great run as well, Clyda, it’s a great championship. It was a quality game, and there was never much in it. But we showed great resolve off the bench.”
There was never more that three points between the teams at any stage during the game and after they were level four times inside the first quarter it was points from Conor Corbett, Conor Flanagan and Dan O’Callaghan that put Clyda 0-8 to 0-5 in front.
Kevin Graham then exchanged points with Knocknagree’s Fintan O’Connor before successive scores from Denis O’Connor and Michael McSweeney left the minimum between the sides at the interval.
The Duhallow side then kicked the first three scores of the second half to take the lead for the first time, Matthew Dilworth with the pick of them, while they also introduced their Cork ace, Eoghan McSweeney. Cian O’Sullivan steadied the Clyda ship with a point before they seemed to take control of the game when Kevin Graham palmed the ball to the net after good work from Darragh Buckley.
It was not to be, however. Clyda led by 1-11 to 0-13 when a McSweeney effort for a point came back off the post where Fintan O’Connor was waiting to slot home. Dilworth followed it up with his third point and Knocknagree looked home and hosed.
Clyda had other ideas, as points from Corbett, James Buckley and Kevin Coffey levelled the game for the sixth time with time almost up. It was then time for McSweeney to show his class, as he kicked two beauties while Fintan O’Connor tapped over as Chris Buckley’s late effort wasn’t enough for Clyda.
It means that the winner’s season will end as it began, against St Michael’s, and Daly knows the challenge that awaits his side.
“Look, it’s going to be very difficult. They’re a super team and their turn has come to win this championship. But we’re not worried about that tonight, we know we have to come back and play them again. We’ve played them twice, we’ve lost twice. I imagine they’ll be raging hot favourites going into the final, that’s what you’d expect.”
Knocknagree continue to defy expectations, however, and few would back against them doing so again.
F O’Connor (1-5, 0-3 frees, 0-1 mark), M Dilworth and N O’Connor (0-3 each), M McSweeney, DR O’Connor (0-1 mark) and E McSweeney (0-2 each).
K Graham (1-2), C Corbett and E Walsh (0-2 frees) (0-3 each), D O’Callaghan (0-2, 0-1 free, 0-1 ’45), C O’Sullivan, C Flanagan, K Coffey, C Buckley and J Buckley (0-1 each).
P Doyle; M Doyle, K Buckley, G O’Connor; D Cooper, D O’Mahony, M Mahoney; G Looney, M McSweeney; F O’Connor (c), M Dilworth, D Moynihan; DR O’Connor, D O’Connor, N O’Connor.
E McSweeney for Moynihan (36), J Dennehy for Dilworth (56), T O’Connor for M Doyle (58).
S Dennehy; A Walsh, C Kenny (c), D Buckley; M Forde, S Kelly, C O’Sullivan; D Walsh, C Flanagan; K Graham, C Corbett, D Cooney; P Kissane, D O’Callaghan, E Walsh.
N Hanley for Cooney (41), C O’Reilly for Buckley (46), J Buckley for O’Sullivan and K Coffey for Flanagan (both 52), C Buckley for Graham (57).
Pa O’Driscoll (Bride Rovers).