The Kanturk hurlers couldn’t settle. A fortnight without a single training session or game had become alien to them.
On Saturday, December 2 in the unfamiliar environs of West London, Kanturk secured their place in the semi-finals of the All-Ireland intermediate club championship.
The win over Kilburn Gaels was their 10th game in 13 weeks. It was a three-month period which saw the club take ownership of the Cork premier intermediate hurling, intermediate football and Munster intermediate hurling titles.
The schedule in front of them as they returned home from Ruislip showed no game for seven weeks. It was time to press pause, take stock.
Management informed the players of the hiatus in training. Most were dual operators, all of them were in need of a break.
Not even three days had passed when manager Donagh Duane started to receive text messages from players enquiring as to when they were getting back together.
“We had to force the rest on them,” says Duane.
“It came as no surprise that no sooner had we given them the time off that they wanted to go back at it. They are such a driven bunch.
“It has been well documented the run of games we had towards the end of last year so it was really strange to have such a long gap without any games.”
Training resumed just before Christmas, with the team gathering at Banteer’s indoor facility at 11am on St Stephen’s Day. There was also a field session on New Year’s Day. Full attendance each time.
“Christmas means time with family, but there was no issue from the lads.
“On they came. They were more than eager to train. It was a totally new departure training through the holidays, but everyone really enjoyed it.
“We had two challenge games against two colleges. It was ideal because it was fast hurling. The colleges are in great nick at the moment because they are preparing for Fitzgibbon Cup.
"We would have liked to have had more games but with conditions and availability of pitches, it was very frustrating.”
Given the haul of silverware amassed during October and November, Duane believes the downtime allowed players properly digest what they had done. As he’s often told them, this is a once-in-a-lifetime run.
“We often sat down in a group after some sessions and recapped on what they achieved. We told them not to forget they are Cork and Munster champions. It was nice to recap during December.
"Even the trip to London, it was nice to go away with the fans. It was a good bonding session. It is fantastic when you think what we’ve achieved.
“There is a bigger cherry to be got, the best of all. We can’t look beyond Sunday. It is all about the 60 minutes in front of us. We really want to go another step. We really want to get another cup.”
The lazy approach is to view tomorrow’s contest as Cork versus Armagh and in that light, there should only be one winner.
Recent history suggests otherwise. On the last two occasions the Ulster intermediate club champions have locked horns with the top team in Munster, it is the men from the north who have prevailed.
Back in 2015, Antrim’s O’Donovan Rossa had seven to spare over Cappoquin of Waterford at the semi-final juncture.
Three years previous to that, Kanturk’s opponents, Middletown, overcame Effin of Limerick by 3-13 to 2-10. Their subsequent All-Ireland final appearance ended in a two-point defeat to Mount Leinster Rangers.
In essence, these lads from Armagh are not to be taken lightly.
“The reality of this is that it is a hurling game in the middle of January, in what will be ferociously heavy conditions,” Duane cautions.
“Perhaps the hurling sharpness and skillsets might not play a massive part. It could be all about heart and determination, who wants to get to Croke Park more.
“They have eight Armagh seniors. They have the experience of having been here and gotten over this hurdle before. They lost in Croke Park and will be more than hungry to get back. We’ll have to be at our best to get over the line.”
AIB Club IHC semi-final
Kanturk (Cork) v Middletown Na Fianna (Armagh)
Tomorrow: St Conleth’s Park, Newbridge, 2pm
Referee: G McGrath, Dublin
Bet: Kanturk 2/9, Middletown 7/2, Draw 12/1
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