WHAT a game, what a way to win your first county title in 18 years.
And not just in terms of a stone-wall classic of a showdown with Glen Rovers, Blackrock beat Douglas in an enthralling quarter-final and only saw off UCC in the semi-final after extra-time in another cracker. They did it the hard way.
This has been a superb season for Cork club hurling. The county board deserve massive credit for sticking to the new group-stage format even when the window for matches post-Covid restrictions was small, with dual demands factored in.
The round-robin series provided huge drama and the streamlined grades made for more competitive matches. The Rockies are worthy winners of the Premier Senior tier.
Young Alan Connolly finished with 0-13, three from play, and his aerial prowess and pace had caused problems from throw-in. Just out of minor, the same as livewire Robbie Cotter, he was electric.
Blackrock’s bench, as well as their animalistic work-rate, was absolutely vital. Cotter nailed 2-2, Tadhg Deasy 1-1 and Alan O’Callaghan another couple of booming scores, as well as bringing a hard edge to the middle third.
Niall Cashman was immense in the half-back line, thundering out with possession and hitting two long-range points, while Daniel Meaney also contributed a pair of scores as well as getting on a pile of possession. Stephen Murphy, as he always does, proved why he's one of the smartest club hurlers in Rebel county.
David, O'Farrell, Gary Norberg, Shane O'Keeffe... no shortage of standout performers.
Fergal Ryan and his selectors have a talented panel but got the right balance between starting with a strong 15 and bringing in subs who could make a significant impact. Not every player can cope with being left out of the line-up or being taken off, but, as they did against the College, they needed the replacements to get over the line.
Their hurling was sublime at stages, a blend of physicality and direct ball with target-men in attack and also some clever use of possession on the run. From Gavin Connolly in goal outwards, they distributed the sliotar intelligently, even if that meant going route one.
The Rockies are extremely well-conditioned, a testament to the strength and conditioning work of Stephen Casey, who was previously involved with Cork minor and U21 teams. He had a weekend to remember, as he’s also in the backroom with Blarney, PIHC victors on Saturday night. Two trophies in 22 hours!
Éire Óg club man Barry Corkery has been in with the group on the sports psychology side, having previously received plaudits for contribution to the Cork minor footballers’ All-Ireland triumph. Even when coughing up three goals in the second half, Blackrock didn’t lose their composure.
They ripped it up in the first 10 minutes of extra time, having snatched a late draw through Connolly, to drive 3-24 to 3-14 ahead with Shane O’Keeffe and Cotter grabbing the crucial goals. The Glen opted to go against the wind in extra time, the same as they had in the first half, but here it left them with a mountain to climb.
Of course, the Blackpool outfit died with their boots on, they always do. They trimmed a 10-point deficit to three before Cotter’s second goal sealed the result.
The windswept day belonged to the southsiders, who had been narrowly beaten by Imokilly in their final appearance in 2017. It’s been an incredible eight days for the Rockies, as they also needed an additional 20 minutes to see off UCC in that belter of a game.
Fergal Ryan’s charges were impressive for long spells of normal time but the Glen’s ability to raise green flags, through Simon Kennefick (2) and Mark Dooley, meant there was little between them when it mattered. Robert Downey was a monster in the back-line in the second half, while Stephen McDonnell had assists for two goals, and young Adam O’Donovan hit 0-2.
After Patrick Horgan defied four Blackrock defenders for his fourth point from play it gave Rovers the lead with time running out. It was a score worthy of winning a county final, though not as good as the stunning effort that put the Glen 3-10 to 1-15 up in the 47th minute. Horgan was every inch the superstar here.
Still, there enough in the tank for Blackrock to force extra-time.
The core of this Glen team were in their fifth county final, some their sixth, and that experience told for periods. Trailing by 10 coming up to half-time in extra time, they forced two frees to trim the gap.
They deployed Horgan, who largely hurled at centre-forward, at the edge of the square on the resumption and went direct. Despite a sweeper, Horgan was fouled for 1-2 in seven minutes. That left it 3-24 to 4-18 and just a puck of ball between them.
The next score was going to be crucial. The dynamic Cotter burst onto a break and absolutely smashed the sliotar home. The key play was in the build-up, Stephen Murphy soaring high and catching a clean ball in the Rockies’ under-siege defence.
A couple of Connolly frees franked the result, 4-26 to 4-18.
A word too on referee Cathal McAllister. He might not have got every call spot on, and what official does, but he ensured this was a bruising battle and a brilliant showcase on TG4 of the best of Cork hurling.