AIB MUNSTER CLUB SHC SEMI-FINAL:
Midleton (Cork) v Sixmilebridge (Clare)
The Magpies are back, the famous black-and-white of Midleton is again at the pinnacle of Cork hurling and representing the Rebel county in the Munster club senior hurling championship, the first time since 1991.
Leading them on that ascent is captain Pádraig O’Shea and as the side prepared for tomorrow’s Munster semi-final against another club with a great hurling tradition, Clare’s Sixmilebridge, he attempted to illustrate what the title means to people of the town and parish.
“The last time Midleton won, 1991, I was only one — in fact a lot of our team weren’t even born and many of the others were only still in nappies.
“The truth is we didn’t fully realise just how important winning the county again was to those guys who had been there in the ’80s and early ’90s, until we got back to Midleton that night of the county final and saw their reaction.
“I think it means even more to them than it does to us, to see Midleton as county senior champions again, and that’s saying something.”
Odd though it may sound, it wasn’t those Midleton and Cork heroes of old, men like John Fenton, Kevin Hennessey, Pat Hartnett, Denis Mulcahy, Ger Fitzgerald, Seánie O’Brien and so on, who inspired this current crop.
Passing in and out of the fabulous new clubhouse (and such a pity this game is on in Cork and not in Midleton), O’Shea, Conor Lehane, Luke O’Farrell and the all the modern stars would have seen the photos from that great era, would have been immersed in the club history, but they had their own incentives.
O’Shea agreed: “It wasn’t so much what had been done in the past, the need to get back there again — this was about the team itself. The core of this side were beaten in a county minor final, were just pipped in an East Cork U21 by Sars who went on to win the county. We were close all the way up but just couldn’t get across the line. The last two or three years we had massive opportunities at senior level but again, were just pipped.
“All that was nagging at us much more so than what had been achieved by the club in the ’80s and early ’90s, that’s what was driving this team on.
“They’d inspire you, those guys, they were encouraging us, but it was our own defeats that really drove us on.”
In the Cork decider they met an outstanding Sars side, the champions who were seeking their fourth title in just six years, but even with Lehane bagging 2-10 of their 2-15 winning total, it took a tremendous team effort by Midleton to get over the line, the defence especially impressive.
It will take an even greater effort against a young but battle-hardened Sixmilebridge team which — ageless wonder Niall Gilligan apart — is not unlike Midleton in age-profile.
Six championship games and six championship wins in the last seven weeks, The Bridge are on some run.
“They have the experience of training and playing too in poor conditions, have come through a few battles, so all that will stand to them this Sunday. We’re aware of that, we know they’re bound to be a huge threat.”
Another major challenge for The Magpies then but, says their captain, they’re ready.
“It’s a surreal feeling for us, it hasn’t sunk in yet that we’re Cork county champions and are now representing the county in Munster.
“We’re still just enjoying it, every minute of it. We’re not going to get too bogged down about it being a Munster semi-final; to us it’s just another game, it is same approach we’ve used right through the championship.
“We’re delighted to be still playing championship hurling in November. This time last year we were all three stone overweight, getting ready to cut down on the chips and get off the beer!
“We’re not going to get caught up in the occasion, just play the game, that’s our plan, keep our own momentum going.”
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