AFTER an era where Cork schools were on the outside looking in when the big prizes were handed out in the Harty Cup, Saturday was a great occasion for Leeside hurling.
The two finals weren't classics but they were entertaining and tight throughout. For the neutral, that was enough as it was proof of the improvement in the county's underage improvement since the nadir of 2016 when Cork teams couldn't make any impact at minor, U21 or senior.
The history books will show Midleton CBS captured the Harty Cup for the first time since 2006 in the first all-Cork decider in 25 years, with Christians just falling short. St Francis College picked up the Tom Collum Cup in the Munster B decider, though Hamilton High School from Bandon pushed them all the way.
The vocal crowd creating the sort of noise and atmosphere associated with the old Flower Lodge before it became Páirc Uí Rinn. The pitch, unlike Páirc Uí Chaoimh (don't mention the war), was in superb condition even in hosting a double-header so the sliotar kept moving.
It was hard to deny the East Cork bluebloods their victory and a fourth Harty triumph, especially after a chastening loss 12 months ago to Ardscoil Rís. Despite an early goal they struggled for periods of the first half but never trailed by more than two points.
Joe Stack, an All-Ireland U17 winner in 2017, threatened to do wreck as the full-forward target-man and while his finishing sometimes left him down he stitched a killer goal late on. When the game was up for grabs Midleton seized control, and their tally of 13 wides to three was evidence they were the better team collectively.
Their work-rate in the second half was immense. Ciarán Joyce and Darragh Morgan thundered out with possession time and again from the half-back line while dangermen CBC Declan Hanlon, Kevin Finn, Jack Cahalane and Shane Barrett were put under constant pressure.
However, this was a game of fine margins. A few breaks of the sliotar and Christians would have got their hands on the prize.
They scored the same amount of times as CBS but the goals from Jason Hankard and Stack were decisive. There were a few crucial plays in a five-minute spell midway through the second half.
In the 38th minute, Jack McGann made a diving save to repel a low drive from towering centre-forward Niall Hartnett, with the subsequent 65 missed.
Had CBC raised a green flag they’d have gone 1-12 to 1-8 ahead. Instead, it was level in 41st minute, Ryan McCarthy clipping over a free after a foul on Stack.
Two minutes later there was more drama. Christians’ most dynamic forward Pádraig Power was denied a goal by McGann, with the classy Kiltha Óg keeper zipping out with possession towards his own 45 and angling a pass to Ross O’Regan.
The lively Midleton number 12 was fouled and CBS had the lead again.
A foul on Harnett made it 0-13 to 1-10 but Stack finally hit the net after 52 minutes, hammering the sliotar to the net at the second time of asking: 2-10 to 0-13.
Power kept showing for ball in the CBC attack and was twice hauled down when heading towards the square, though one of those frees skewed wide. Cian Long made a brilliant stop from O’Regan but all Midleton needed to do was keep the scoreboard ticking, which they did after fouls on corner-back Dylan Healy and Stack.
The Midleton CBS contingent in the crowd of 7,089 celebrated lustily at the final whistle, their young ‘ultras’ heading down behind the goals, flares lighting, where their schoolmates raced to the fence to soak up the acclaim.
Five of the starting 15 hailed from the town with another five from Kiltha Óg, the Castlemartyr-Dungourney underage combination, three from Killeagh, one from Fr O’Neill’s and another from Lisgoold. Further evidence of the strength of the game in East Cork, after Imokilly retained the senior county last year, Midleton landed the Premier 1 minor and Fr O’Neill’s the U21 crown.
There was a city and west Cork flavour to the opening clash between Rochestown and Hamilton High, which might not have had the same ferocity as the Harty final but was engaging before finishing with Roco 1-13 to 0-14 victors.
An early goal from Paul O’Riordan, who finished with 1-2 from play, was telling. The Tracton youngster recovered from illness recently and contributed brilliantly, while sweeper Cian McCarthy and free-taker Alan Connolly, both from the Rockies, were MVP contenders. Cork hurler Alan Cadogan is in the coaching set-up and he was thrilled afterwards Valley Rovers’ Adam Kenneally and Dohneys’ pair Fionn Herlihy and Bill Murphy caused a lot of problem in attack for Hammies, with Seán Sexton (Kilbrittain) a tank at centre-back. Their manager Aidan O’Donoghue has been doing savage stuff with school teams for some time and like Christians they just came out on the wrong side of a few breaks.
The Munster PPS deserve a mention for the terrific programme they produced to commemorate the event, filled with pics of all the players and stats.