The usual presumption about an intermediate or junior game – particularly when it’s timed to warm up the crowd for a senior decider – is that the execution can be some way behind the endeavour.
In the Premier Intermediate hurling championship final yesterday, though, Newcestown versus Valley Rovers was a good deal better than that, right up to the point when the former stepped on the accelerator in the run-up to half-time.
Newcestown looked like a team that won’t get a nosebleed when they ascend to the next rung of the ladder if yesterday was a fair sample of their wares.
They were disciplined at the back and enterprising in the middle – elite hurling now is far beyond wearing the rims off the sliotar and hoping it all works out 80 yards away, and Newcestown always had a sense of what they were doing which Valley Rovers couldn’t match.
The men from Innishannon tried to work the ball through the lines at times but didn’t strike the right balance between over-elaboration and directness; their opponents always seemed to mix both approaches well.
They also had the traditional ingredient: endeavour was in plentiful supply in the red and yellow corner, as evidenced by their emblematic turnover on 20 minutes. With Valley Rovers trying to thread a string of passes through the centre of the field, three of their opponents sprang a trap, and from the resultant free Newcestown pushed their lead out to three.
It got better in the run-up to half-time. Deploying the experienced Carthach Keane as a roving fulcrum to their attack, they were six points ahead at the break and not flattered by the lead.
Valley Rovers, by contrast, looked like a side not quite at the pitch of the game, to use a much-loved Johnny Giles expression, and Newcestown were ruthless in exploiting that slight difference in focus.
The game died as a contest in the 41st minute; Rovers, seven points down, came looking for a goal but were thrown back. Newcestown surged downfield with purpose, moving the ball with intent, and Carthach Keane restored their advantage to eight.
From a long way out it was simply a matter of Newcestown’s eventual winning margin, and only for a dazzling save by Willie Burke in the Valley goal from Newcestown’s Sean O’Donovan it would have been even more.
As it was, with two minutes left referee Cathal McAllister gave a pretty harsh penalty to Newcestown which Daniel Twomey drilled into the corner of the net (at the time Valley Rovers were 14 points behind, and while the rules are the rules in injury-time just as they are in the first minute, was a penalty absolutely necessary?)
At the final whistle it was 1-23 to 0-8, and the game had long seen any drama leak away into the ether. Lessons are hard learned – Newcestown had a tough day at the office in the corresponding fixture 12 months before, when Ballyhea won comprehensively, so the template is there for Valley Rovers, if they choose to use it.
In a broader sense, was there much solace for Kieran Kingston, freshly appointed as Cork senior hurling manager? Traditionally Cork dip into the intermediate game to leaven the county senior side, and as a former Tracton star Kingston will know more about that than most.
But there was little enough on show for the county side, though that will hardly worry Newcestown as they wake up a senior hurling team this morning.
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