Whether they beat Nemo or not, football in the Duhallow division is thriving

Whether they beat Nemo or not, football in the Duhallow division is thriving
Paul Walsh, Duhallow, takes on Sean O'Donovan, Eoin Kelly and David Buckley, Newcestown. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

AFTER eight weeks of hurling involvement, Kanturk had three weeks to prepare for Cill na Martra in their Premier Intermediate football quarter-final earlier this month.

Kanturk were refreshed, rebooted and recharged and their impressive win against Cill na Martra, which secured the club’s first Premier Intermediate football semi-final, hinted at a team with serious intent.

Going up against an experienced and driven St Michael’s side in the semi-final was always going to be difficult but Kanturk still went into that match as favourites. Kanturk were lucky to survive the drawn game but there was no doubt about the outcome of last weekend’s replay.

It was always going to be difficult on Kanturk to sustain the intensity required, especially with a number of the players having also played a senior semi-final with Duhallow the day after the drawn game, but Kanturk couldn’t have any complaints.

In one sense, it was the only glitch for Duhallow teams which has taken them on an incredible journey over the last couple of seasons. Knocknagree cruised to an Intermediate final last weekend when smashing Millstreet, while Duhallow contest another county senior final tomorrow.

They haven’t had the same success as Imokilly but, in many ways, Duhallow’s journey to this point has had similarities with the east Cork division. Because when the club culture is strong, and the divisional team is well organised, progress and success are the natural by-products.

If Imokilly represent the new powerbase in hurling, Duhallow do more or the less the same in football. The numbers back up that claim; Kiskeam went senior in 2016; Kanturk won the county Intermediate title in 2017; Knocknagree won the All-Ireland Junior football title in 2018.

The Cork Junior football championship is the biggest GAA championship in the country and Duhallow clubs have won four of the last six titles.

Three of the last four sides in this year’s Intermediate championship were from Duhallow – Knocknagree, Millstreet and Dromtariffe. And Duhallow reaching successive county finals for the first time in nearly three decades confirms the strength of that culture.

That was reflected in the make-up of this year’s successful Cork U-20 squad, which included six players, including four starters, from six different Duhallow clubs.

The region is lucky with its strategic location close to Cork, Kerry - especially Killarney – and, with a number of towns in the division, the high number of employment opportunities in the area has kept a lot of players in their locality.

Yet one of the most impressive aspects of the Duhallow journey is the high volume of talented young footballers littered throughout the division.

Knocknagree are the prime example. When the club won the All-Ireland Junior title, the average of that team was 23.5. Just 20 months on, the average age of the team is 22. That average has been driven down by the infusion of five 19 year olds. When Knocknagree played Millstreet last weekend, Daniel O’Mahony was playing against a team coached by his uncle – Aidan O’Mahony, the former Kerry player.

Knocknagree are anchoring the current Duhallow team and it’s apt that the Knocknagree manager, John Fintan Daly, was primarily responsible for first turning Duhallow into a serious footballing force, winning successive county titles in 1990 and 1991.

Daly was in charge of Duhallow for 13 seasons, between 1986-’98. At the time, the panel was mostly made up of Junior clubs but Daly created a serious brand and identity for Duhallow footballers; the divisional outfit reached the last four of the championship in ten of Daly’s 13 seasons at the helm.

When Duhallow won those two senior championships, Cork football was at its apex. As well as Cork having won successive All-Ireland senior titles for the only time in the county’s history, the local championship was packed with some of the best club sides in the country; St Finbarr’s and Nemo Rangers had won two of the three previous All-Ireland club football titles.

Duhallow only had one county player – Danny Culloty - at the time of their county success, but they had a number of quality players very close to that standard.

Duhallow has almost become as noted for producing inter-county hurlers than footballers since its last senior football title 28 years ago. Yet the brand that Daly created three decades ago has remained strong; Duhallow have always been a solid, consistent championship contender; playing with the Duhallow team is still considered a huge honour by the players.

Duhallow went close last year but they were beaten by a better, hungrier Barrs team in the final. The semi-final trilogy between Duhallow and Castlehaven may have taken a lot out of Duhallow for the final but those matches were also probably the making of the divisional side.

They have fed off that energy ever since. Duhallow possibly haven’t reached the same heights this season but they haven’t had to either. They won a dogfight semi-final against Newcestown by five points but they have been impressive throughout this championship. The majority of this squad are young but Duhallow also look to that ideal blend of youth and hardened experience now.

They look ready but so do Nemo Rangers. Nemo are always ready but they look more primed than ever after beating Douglas in the semi-final by 14 points.

When Duhallow won their county titles in 1990-91, they beat the Barrs in both finals. The only time Duhallow and Nemo met in a final – in 1988 – Nemo won by four points, before going on to win the All-Ireland.

Nemo will always be the dominant powerhouse in Cork football but the power base in Cork is certainly shifting more in Duhallow’s direction. And a county final win against Nemo would be the ideal way for Duhallow to show, and prove, as much.

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