It was at the very home of Sunday’s opponents when the wheel finally began to turn for Imokilly.
A pleasant Monday evening in June of 2015, Imokilly versus UCC. For the winner, a place in the Cork championship proper. UCC, most likely. They, after all, had Kilkenny’s John Power, Mallow’s Cormac Murphy and Waterford pair, DJ Foran and Tom Devine, among their ranks.
Imokilly, on the other hand, weren’t in the rudest of health. Not since 2009 had they been spotted in the championship proper. Indeed, in 2014, it had been the hurlers from West Cork, Carbery, who put an end to their involvement in the colleges/divisional section.
Fergal Condon had been a late appointment in 2015. The first item on his agenda was to secure the services of the three leading hurlers eligible to pull on the red and white shirt; Paudie O’Sullivan, Seamus Harnedy, and Brian Lawton.
He then set about injecting the set-up with a sizeable dose of youth. Seven U21s, including current goalkeeper Declan Dalton, were brought into the panel, with the starting team that took to the field in Riverstown showing 10 changes in personnel from the side which fell to Carbery 12 months earlier.
Imokilly prevailed, overcoming the students by 0-20 to 0-17. They’d win their fourth round game, as well, Sars drawing the curtain on their campaign at the quarter-final juncture.
Should they reverse that result at Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Sunday, they’ll secure the division a place in the decider for the first time since 2001. That’s fair progress in the space of two and a half years.
“It is easy now to entice lads in, setting it up wasn’t easy,” remarks Condon, now in his third year at the helm
“At the time, we hadn’t been involved in the business end of the championship for a good few years. If there were wrongs, we wanted to rectify them.
“The inter-county players at the time were Paudie, Seamie, and Brian. I had a word with them to get them on board because, maybe, they would have been unsure about how serious I was in wanting to progress the division. It was a challenge to get all the top players but they are there now.”
A Cathal O’Mahony injury-time goal for Erin’s Own stunned them in the fourth round last year. When their conquerors went all the way to the decider, though, it quickly dawned on them that they weren’t as far from the summit as they believed.
Efforts were stepped up this year. On the opening weekend of the championship in early May, they whacked Bishopstown by 20-points. One board official remarked that no club had played more challenge games outside the county during the spring than the men from East Cork. They played Kilmallock, they played Oulart-the-Ballagh, they went across to WIT. Every stone was turned.
UCC were subsequently passed and despite it taking 120 minutes, they eventually exacted revenge on Erin’s Own.
“It takes a lot of work to get here. It takes interest from players, it takes commitment. You can’t question that. There wasn’t a player within the division that we went after that wasn’t interested. We have the top players we need. They have been outstanding.”
Condon added: “Maybe the games against Erin’s Own showed we have to be more clinical, and more cynical in defence. We scored 1-19 from play the last day, Erin’s Own got 4-3. We’d have to be worried about that.
“Sars will be completely different to anything we have faced this year. Their stickwork is immense. While we will have to play to the top of our ability to make the final, that’s what we’re striving for. Every one of the players wants to be in the final.”
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