SUNDAY: Bons Secours Hospital Cork SAFC semi-final: O’Donovan Rossa v Éire Óg, Clonakilty, 2pm.
A PLACE in the final of the second-tier football championship is at stake for these two sides, with Mallow awaiting the victors after their win over Fermoy last weekend.
These came at the newly created grade from opposite sides. O’Donovan Rossa were unlucky to miss out on a place at premier SFC level, ranked joint-13th with Kiskeam with only 12 sides making the club, while Éire Óg beat St Michael’s in the last ‘old’ premier intermediate final.
Unsurprisingly, Rossa have lived up to their billing as one of the outright favourites from the off, securing their place in the knockout stages with wins over St Nicholas and Béal Áthan Ghaorthidh before coming out on top in an exciting clash with St Michael’s, a game between two qualified teams to determine top spot.
The Skibbereen side’s 3-13 to 3-12 win in that match ensured their scoring difference was strong enough to secure one of the two automatic semi-final spots, while Michael’s had to take on Éire Óg in the quarter-finals a fortnight ago. A close game was expected at Ballyanly that day, especially as the Ovens side had only won by two points in last year’s PIFC final, but Éire Óg blew them away, triumphing by 3-12 to 0-4 to advance to the last four and Sunday’s clash.
Between that game and this, Éire Óg have had to fit in hurling commitments, creating Cork GAA history as they came out on top in the first adult championship penalty shootout on Leeside, beating Sarsfields 2-0. Moving on in both codes is sure to have given them momentum, but it is something of a double-edged sword in that there is a risk of the double load of exertions catching up with them.
Also of concern for the side managed by Cavan native Harry O’Reilly – with former Cork star Paudie Kissane as coach – is the fact that countyman Ciarán Sheehan came on against Michael’s as he recovered from injury, but then he wasn’t togged out for the hurling clash.
They were able to cope without him for much of the Michael’s game as the attack clicked so well – after some sloppy wides in the first half – with captain Daniel Goulding and Colm O’Callaghan especially impressive while Kevin Hallissey came off the bench to score two second-half goals to put the game to bed.
It wasn’t just the forward division that was on song, though. Chris Kelly made some excellent saves while John Cooper was strong at centre-back and Ronan O’Toole and Jack Murphy bossed midfield.
They will present a stiff challenge for O’Donovan Rossa and, if there is a glimmer of hope to take ahead of the clash with the West Cork side, it’s that Michael’s showed they can be got at. After 27 minutes in Enniskeane that day, Skibb trailed by 3-6 to 1-4 and it looked as if Michael’s were destined for the semi-final spot, but the thing for Martin Bohane’s side to take heart from is the fact that they were able to turn such a deficit around and emerge with the win.
Like their opponents, they have a wealth of attacking options, with Donal Óg Hodnett, David Shannon and Thomas Hegarty all capable of making a strong impact while Kevin Davis, a second-half sub that day, would be a huge asset if he was able to be involved from the start.
Opposing O’Toole and Murphy at midfield will be Rory Byrne and Jack Breen and the battle there could be pivotal in determining the outcome. Further back, in Ryan Price Skibb boast a top-class goalkeeper.
The fact that Skibb haven’t played since the Michael’s game could leave them a bit rusty, but on the other hand they may be fresh in comparison to Éire Óg, whose heavy schedule has not allowed much time for recovery. Sheehan’s presence would definitely make Éire Óg a more formidable proposition and it could be the case that his loss is ultimately what gives O’Donovan Rossa the edge.
Being able to focus fully on football, and this game, has to count for something at this stage of the competition and the Skibbereen side gets the tentative vote for a place in the final.
Verdict: O’Donovan Rossa