Classic Cork county hurling finals: When Avondhu battled Imokilly in 1996

Classic Cork county hurling finals: When Avondhu battled Imokilly in 1996
Action from the 1996 county final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Picture: Dan Linehan

THERE is no doubt that when a divisional unit gets its act together the chances are that it will be in contention in the Cork County SHC.

Organisation is everything in a division, getting the support of the divisional board, the clubs and, in particular, the players.

Imokilly have won the last three county senior hurling titles because all those ducks were in a row and if the championship gets the green light this season thy will again be one of the favourites.

Back in the 1990s divisions dominated the landscape to quite an extent with Carbery winning the title in 1994 followed by Avondhu in 1996 and Imokilly in the years ’97 and ’98.

Carbery’s win was probably the most surprising given that it would not be seen as a hurling stronghold but they were deserving champions that season.

Avondhu won the title back in 1996 and that division always produced quality hurlers.

Avondhu captain Aidan Kenny with the Seán Óg Murphy Cup. Picture: Dan Linehan
Avondhu captain Aidan Kenny with the Seán Óg Murphy Cup. Picture: Dan Linehan

In the final that year they defeated Imokilly in an all divisional final with a very good team that had an equally strong bunch directing matters from the sideline.

Jack Russell, who won it as a player in ’66, was the team coach and alongside him were a group of very good hurling men, Fred Sheedy from Kilworth, Tom O’Brien from Fermoy, Patsy Morrissey from Newtownshandrum and last but by no means least, Johnny Keane from Liscarroll who was to go on to have great success with the Cork intermediate hurlers years later.

Keane, always a great friend to the Echo, recalled that ’96 season when he spoke to the newspaper this week.

“You always had good hurlers in North Cork but you need more than that with any divisional side.

“You have to get the players to buy into what you are about and you have to have the support of the divisional board.

“That year too we had great hurling men at the helm, Fred, Patsy, Tommy and Jack as coach.

“I was fortunate enough to be involved as well and we had a great season which ended with us winning it outright.

“We had the likes of Mick Beecher and Tom Dorgan on the divisional board and we got great support from them.”

First up that season were Cork RTC followed by a narrow win over Carbery, winners of the title two years earlier, but Avondhu proved too strong on the day.

“Yes, Carbery were strong then, they had led the way you could say in 1994 for the rest of us but we got the better of them on the day.

“We immediately got a bit of momentum going but there was a long road to travel yet and we faced St Catherine’s and the Glen after that.

“That was really the big one for us, taking on a club of their stature.

“It went to a replay but we won that, 4-14 to 2-12 and suddenly we were in a county final and as it turned out it was against another division in Imokilly.

“Everybody in the division had got behind us now and a lot of the clubs that we had players from were no longer in their championship so we were able to put in a bigger effort on the training ground.

“We had players from very strong clubs like Newtown, Mallow, Kilworth, Fermoy and so on. We had Pat Mulcahy and Fergal McCormack who went on to have so much success with Cork.”

Avondhu's Ray O'Connell racing away from Imokilly's Seamus Collins. Picture: Dan Linehan
Avondhu's Ray O'Connell racing away from Imokilly's Seamus Collins. Picture: Dan Linehan

The final went to two games, Keane recalls.

Yes, there wasn’t a whole lot between us as the two scorelines showed. They were low scoring enough finals, 1-12 each the first day and we won by two points in the replay, 0-13 to 1-11.

“It was huge achievement for the players who would never get the chance to play senior with their clubs.

“To win a county senior medal in Cork is a massive achievement. So many great players never won one but these fellows had one now.”

Keane was quick to pay tribute to his fellow selectors that year.

“Jack was very good coach, strict when it was needed but hugely honest and straightforward. Fred was a great hurling man and Jimmy Barry-Murphy insisted that he was a selector with him when he was in charge of Cork.

“Patsy and Tom were real hurling men and it was very much a case of it all coming together that year.

“Early on you’d be restricted with your training because the players were with their clubs but it gradually got better.

“We had a good few challenge games in the preparation and in fairness to the board in the division, we got everything we asked for.

“I remember afterwards we went back to the Metropole Hotel and then on to Kilworth afterwards, the club of the captain Aidan Kenny.

“It was a great occasion and we had sunk a few pints afterwards. But at the end of the day it was all about the players, the good mix we had in the team and the camaraderie that was built into it.”

The Avondhu team of that 1996 season was: Seanie Clifford (Newtown); Niall O’Donnell (Fermoy), Conor Hannon (Shanballymore), John McCarthy (Newtown); John Walsh (Mallow), Pat Mulcahy (Newtown), Trevor Cooney (Fermoy); Diarmuid Lynch (Ballygiblin), Fergal McCormack (Mallow); Aidan Kenny (Kilworth), Brian O’Driscoll (Kilavullen), Ray O’Connell (Mallow); Shane Kileen (Fermoy), Dave Moher (Ballygiblin), Ronan Sheehan (Mallow).

Substitutes: Will O’Donoghue (Kilworth), Jody Hayes (Mallow).

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