Emerging from the Páirc Uí Chaoimh tunnel for their county quarter-final clash last September, Glen Rovers boss Richie Kelleher broke away from his squad to offer congratulations to the Na Piarsaigh management.
The northsiders had scored a comprehensive win over Newtownshandrum in the first of the afternoon’s double-header and the Glen Rovers manager was delighted to see Na Piarsaigh advance to the penultimate round. By 5.30pm, a third city team had been added to the semi-final bowl – Douglas having set the tone the previous Sunday.
“It is great to see three city teams still there,” said Kelleher in the wake of their quarter-final win over Ballymartle. “There is great rivalry there, but I always support the city teams.” Cork hurling enthusiasts licked their lips at the prospect of the Séan Óg Murphy Cup residing in the city for the first time since the winter of 2004.
In the end, not one of the three could deliver. Douglas and Na Piarsaigh fell at the penultimate hurdle, the Glen annihilated by 16 points in the decider.
Fast-forward 12 months and the semi-final make-up of the local championship shows just the one city team. Having once ruled the Cork landscape, city problems have never been more pronounced. The 2012 finalists Bishopstown contested the relegation play-off last night and aside from Glen Rovers, only one other city club reached the last eight – Douglas losing out to Midleton by nine-points.
Richie Kelleher, still patrolling the Glen sideline, holds his own particular views on the city’s demise.
“Twenty, thirty, forty and fifty years ago, most guys from north and east Cork working in the city would join a club in the city. That is not there any more. That has weakened us,” he insists.
“There are also a lot of distractions here in the city. Here in the Glen, we mind what we have. We have an older population at the moment, but there are younger guys coming through and we will always keep the show on the road. There will be good days and bad days. The Glen will always be there, we would just love to have a bit of success.
“I know other city clubs are struggling, it’s swings and roundabouts. Douglas won the minor there during the week, a massive achievement. And they could have beaten us in the county semi-final last year. They are not too far away. Blackrock are coming. We are all trying very hard. Every city club will always try their best.” Granted, but there is a strong chance that for the eighth occasion since Na Piarsaigh’s county final win in 2004 there will be no city representation in the decider.
“We know we are carrying the mantle in that regard. But most of the lads on this panel have won a minor and U21 county. There is only one medal missing. Everyone knows what we have and have not done in the last few years. That is what drives us. Getting over the line is what we want, Sunday is first, though.
Having ruptured one of the four muscles in his quadriceps towards the end of last month, talisman Conor Lehane is not expected to line out for semi-final opponents Midleton tomorrow.
“I am not going to lie, it will make our task easier if Conor is absent,” continues Kelleher.“I am not a fool, though. I am planning for Conor Lehane. I wouldn’t be second-guessing any guy who is in or out. To be the best, you have got to beat the best and I wish Conor all the best.”
He added: “We think we are a bit fresher this year. We have man-managed the lads; we took each lad individually and we said he could take a break here, work harder here. It is working. We are getting the most out of lads, especially from the older guys like Graham Callanan, Glenn Kennifick and David Cunningham. There seems to be more juice in the legs. I hope it is still there on Sunday.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved