Clubs don't mind hurling deep into the winter months as long as they are winning

Clubs don't mind hurling deep into the winter months as long as they are winning
Fr O'Neill's Billy Dunne celebrates his goal against Midleton. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

WINTER is no one’s favourite time of year to be hurling and yet, if you’re still playing in the depths of December you’ve probably had a profitable season.

That was certainly the case for Fr O’Neill’s, Bride Rovers and Ballincollig, all crowned county champions after the recent deciders across the Premier 1, Premier 2 and A levels. Without a doubt, it’s preferable to be striking the sliotar when the pitch is hard and the bounce reliable, but there’s an art to succeeding in heavier conditions.

Indeed, it’s something hurling’s young guns should be more conscious of, considering how much of it is done in the wind and the rain. You won’t be much use to your club if you can only be a top-of-the-ground hurler.

These recent county finals was all about digging out the result.

Fr O’Neill’s and Midleton was ‘the game of the year’ according to John Horgan in these pages and who are we to argue after seven goals, three red cards, extra-time and a historic triumph.

There was no shortage of talent on show, with Ross O’Regan, Tommy O’Connell, Cian Farmer, Seán O’Leary Hayes, Aaron Mulachy and Séadnaidh Smyth enhancing their reputations for the Magpies. O’Neill’s had heroes in every line, with their inside forwards Billy Dunne, Colm Swayne and Jason Hankford each bagging 1-1, the Millericks consistency personified, and Declan Harrington picking up the world of ball.

However, Deccie Dalton was the star turn – yet again – with his haul of 15 points which included nerveless frees, a sideline and a couple from play. His heft and bravery make him the perfect target man in winter conditions and it was an emotional day for the Daltons, as his father Robbie was in charge.

A few months back when covering the PIHC semi-final in Kilworth we watched Dalton swerving frees over from the tightest of angles in the warm-up. He then dropped the sliothar on the ground inside the 45, turned and smashed it between the posts at the other end of the pitch where Charleville were warming up. Not a bother to him.

Dalton was well-marked by the eventual county champions in the second half that day when John Meyler was a keen observer from the bank but he has shown enough recently to suggest he’s more than worth a look at senior level in Rebel red. Granted, he’s not blessed with blinding pace but it’s disappointing he’s not currently in line to feature for Cork in the pre-season Munster Hurling League and into the spring.

Fr O'Neill's Declan Dalton tackles Midleton goalkeeper Alan Power. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Fr O'Neill's Declan Dalton tackles Midleton goalkeeper Alan Power. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

At the very least, his strength and aerial ability would offer something to Meyler’s panel. After all, if he hadn’t been carrying an injury into the All-Ireland U21 final against Tipp the result could well have been different.

Whether he gets his shot with Cork or not, Dalton will be trying to power Fr O’Neill’s to the Premier Intermediate title in 2019, where they could face Ballincollig or Courcey Rovers, whose Premier 2 clash was tight and tough if nowhere as explosive as the Premier 1 equivalent.

Evan Cooke, Ballincollig, in pursuit of Sean Twomey, Courcey Rovers. Picture: Jim Coughlan
Evan Cooke, Ballincollig, in pursuit of Sean Twomey, Courcey Rovers. Picture: Jim Coughlan

On the balance of the 80-plus minutes, Ballincollig just about deserved their one-point win, though it was a harrowing loss for Courceys given they also missed out by the width of a post in the PIHC and Division 1 league finals. It was a memorable season for Courceys yet they’d no silverware to show for it.

The Collig are clearly making significant progress. They were well beaten by Aghabullogue in the U21 second-tier last year and haven’t been in any minor finals since their last victory in 2012 when incidentally Fr O’Neill’s were their opponents.

Ballincollig did reach the 2015 Premier 2 minor semi-final when Darragh Fitzgibbon’s Charleville knocked them out but adding an U21 trophy to the intermediate one gives the club genuine momentum.

Bride Rovers certainly have that, after completing a double underage: the Premier 2 minor and U21 A competitions.

Bride Rovers' Brian Roche wins the ball from Cloughduv's Eoghan Clifford. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Bride Rovers' Brian Roche wins the ball from Cloughduv's Eoghan Clifford. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Conor Barry and Brian Roche, who along with his twin Eoin caught the eye for the Cork minors and U17s in 2017, did the bulk of the scoring against Cloughduv last Sunday. An influx of new faces can keep Bride in the mix at senior level and having Rebel legend Brian Murphy in the U21 management was a great sign.

Looking down the line, they’ve a terrific group of hurlers at U14 and having pushed St Finbarr’s all the way in Féile, they picked up a league against the same opposition recently.

It’s some going for Bride to be a leading contender among the eight teams in Premier 1.

We’ll be keeping on eye on that crop at U15 next year.

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