Duhallow dreamers break down one of Cork hurling’s last borders

Often, in the aftermath of seismic victories, players and managers can be accused of finding meaning in the realm of the cliché. They can sing the song of having been written off by everyone, play the tune of not being given a chance by anyone, or even ask Joe Brolly what he thinks about it all.

This is only human. There is, after all, something desperately unfair and impossible about asking somebody to articulate how they feel about an event that is emotionally indecipherable moments after it has concluded.

Occasionally, however, there is sense to be found in the madness of euphoria. And, as the lights went out in Páirc Uí Rinn on Saturday night, Aidan Walsh found that sense. He said that “growing up, we were always seen as the mullockers of Cork hurling in Duhallow”. This wasn’t a perceived jibe borne from a sense of injustice. This was a fact. Duhallow has always been the forgotten daughter of Cork hurling. It has always been the place that was given plenty of token attention before being politely ignored as everybody focused on the places of perceived importance.

Again, this was only human. The Junior County has only ever made its way to Duhallow on three occasions while Kanturk’s previous Intermediate title in 2013 brought them to Premier Intermediate level. The innate snobbery of hurling seemed particularly apt for Duhallow and her clubs. Everybody should know their place.

But things can and do change. Kanturk proved it on Saturday night. They earned their place at the top table of Cork hurling, and it wasn’t down to mullocking. They’ve had the hurlers for a few years but haven’t quite been able to put it all together and even found themselves in a relegation playoff in 2016.

It’s one thing having the players, it’s another thing getting them all to believe in what they can do. What was most impressive on Saturday was their unquenchable belief. Never was it more evident than when Gerry Hayes poked home a scrappy goal for Mallow with five minutes left.

Often these goals can be a death knell for a team and as Kanturk mentor Donagh Duane put it, “sometimes when a goal like that goes in your energy levels can just fall and you can die away in a game”. It’s what everyone expected would happen.

When the challenge was at its most difficult, they played like a team who knew they belonged. Yes, the likes of Walsh, Lorcán McLoughlin, Anthony Nash, and Darren Browne sprinkle them with gold dust but they had hurlers and heroes everywhere. Paul Walsh was the personification of defiance at corner-back while Ryan and Ian Walsh found a new level in the closing stages.

Sometimes, that inner belief needs a spark from somewhere else. When you’re perceived to have come from a place with no tradition you often need outside affirmation to galvanise things.

For Kanturk, Jim McCarthy has acted as the catalyst. Speaking to him before the game, it was impossible not to be impressed by the Glen man’s belief and confidence. He fully expected a Kanturk victory and it was something Walsh acknowledged too: “He just brought that bit of confidence that we were lacking. He gave us the confidence to push on and express ourselves. And that showed tonight, I know we hit a lot of wides, but we expressed ourselves when the chips were down.”

For Mallow, it will be a winter of discontent. It was impossible not to feel for them as they collapsed at the final whistle. They’ve been the nearly men at this grade for three years in a row now, losing to the eventual champions on each occasion, never by more than two points.

They’ve been close enough to smell it, touch it, and believe it, but haven’t quite been able to make it happen. They’ve experienced sport at its most raw and visceral but the nature of sport is that they’ll just have to go again. What else can they do?

The night belonged to Kanturk, however. They’ve been slowly changing perceptions, edging their way into the mainstream. It started out with a player here, a player there, and who knows where it will end. They’ve broken down one of the last borders in Cork hurling and have changed things utterly. Long may it continue.

As for what it will it mean to them all? Well, we’ll let Donagh Duane try and explain that one: “The fact that we’ve done it? Give me a few days to soak it in and realise what we’ve achieved.”

We’ll give him until the first marquee home game in the senior league next spring. Be it the Glen or the Rockies, Sars or the Barrs, Kanturk will be taking them on as equals, as senior hurlers.


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