Peter Smith was on the last Midleton team to win the county SHC title in 1991, as part of a side which featured household names like Ger Fitzgerald, Kevin Hennessy, John Fenton, Pat Hartnett and Denis Mulcahy.
Back then, with a fourth county title in nine years secured, the thought of waiting 22 years for the next one must have been alien to anybody in the East Cork town. After yesterday’s game, Smith admitted he had not expected such a drought, but was not surprised it was this group of players who had ended it.
“It seemed like ages and ages,” he said.
“I just had a picture there with the cup with Paddy Fitzgerald, who was in charge of us when we won it last. Little did I realise at that stage that when we won it again I’d be in charge.
“These lads are full of character. If you take the hurling out of it, they’re proper guys, proper men. That counts for something as well.”
With 2-10 of Midleton’s final tally of 2-15, there was no doubting that Conor Lehane deserved much of the black and white plaudits. In Smith’s eyes, he was living up to the high standards he has set for himself.
“Conor came back from the All-Ireland finals, and I think he realised that that’s where he belongs,” he said.
“He showed it again today. I said to him with 10 minutes to go, ‘It’s there now for you, boy,’ and he took it on. As did Luke, he really showed up in the last 10 or 15 minutes too, when you want guys to be doing that.”
In 2009, Midleton needed an extra-time win in a relegation semi-final replay against Carrigtwohill to banish any fears of the drop, and since then they have built up upwards.
Smith has seen the change in the side at close quarters.
“I was there then, myself and Mickey O’Connell and a few others,” he said, “and a lot of credit goes to those guys too, for making the effort so that the lads here could get over the line today.
“I said it to a good friend of mine, Pat Hartnett, that today the boys would have to become men. I think they have become men after that, and they deserve every credit for doing so.”
And they may not be finished yet, with the prospect of a tilt at the Munster championship ahead of them. With a game against the Clare champions two weeks away, there is time for some celebrating, but the incentive of more silverware will be enough to train minds on the next task ahead.
“You have to take it seriously when you get there,” Smith said. “It’s a long time since we’ve been there, 1994 was the last time [Midleton lost the county final to division side Carbery, who could not enter]. We’ll definitely enjoy the celebrations, but we’ll come back again next week or the week after and focus on that.”
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