The John Horgan column: East Cork hurling is leading the way again 

The John Horgan column: East Cork hurling is leading the way again 
F. O'Neill's Jason Hankard hammers home his goal against Blackrock. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

THERE is just no getting away from it, East Cork hurling continues to show the rest how it’s done.

We might be biased and we might be entering the depths of winter but having another major game featuring two teams from the barony to look forward to illustrates just how strong it is.

Next weekend’s County Premier 1 U21 hurling final between Fr O’Neill’s and Midleton should showcase that strength all that bit more.

Firstly, let’s reflect on the week that Fr O’Neill’s had to deal with and how the highest praise for them is justified.

In recent history or at any time for that matter one cannot remember a club playing three major championship matches in six days and performing superbly in all three.

For reasons now well documented, this U21 competition has ran far too late and should be done and dusted long before now.

Just as well there isn’t a provincial campaign to deal with.

It certainly should not be run off in the blitz fashion that it has been because effectively that is what O’Neill’s have one and will try to close it all out next Sunday in the final.

Asking a team to play three games of hurling in such a short time frame at this time of the year is grossly unfair but it has been a task that they were up to.

In taking out Charleville, with 11 members of their wonderful Munster Club intermediate team backboning them, Sarsfields the reigning champions with the vast majority of their 2017 team still playing and a very fancied Rockies team all in the space of six days has been a unique achievement.

And the manner with which they did so makes it all the more meritorious.

Fr O'Neill's Declan Dalton boots the ball from Blackrock's Tadhg Deasy. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Fr O'Neill's Declan Dalton boots the ball from Blackrock's Tadhg Deasy. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

The word momentum, of course, comes into play too and they certainly will have no shortage of that in the final of course, it will mean very little if they don’t complete the job against a Midleton team that showed their excellent credentials as well in defeating Douglas after trailing at one stage by eight points.

That game was not without controversy with Douglas believing they had forced the game into extra-time right at the death only for a last-gasp effort for an equaliser deemed by the officials to have gone wide.

Nobody at Páirc Uí Rinn last Saturday could say with any conviction that it was a point or it wasn’t but it was a pity that a fine game had to end like that.

That was another game when there was an illustration of one team building up a substantial advantage and being pegged back thereafter.

Douglas will be desperately disappointed that they didn’t build on the platform that they had constructed in the first-half but Midleton deserve full credit for turning the game in their favour.

A big lead in hurling now can be whittled down very quickly once a team gets a run on you and that was a case on far bigger stages all through 2018.

Now we have a final to really look forward to next weekend, Midleton trying to win the title for the seventh title and O’Neill’s trying to claim their first.

In a perfect world, an all-East Cork final would be played in the division and there wouldn’t be standing room.

But that won’t be an in fairness Páirc Uí Rinn was in excellent condition last Saturday for the two games.

Midleton's Tommy O'Connell is tackled by Douglas' Cathal Sheehan. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Midleton's Tommy O'Connell is tackled by Douglas' Cathal Sheehan. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Both O’Neill’s and Midleton contain some of the best, young hurling talent in the county, players that we will hear a lot more about in the future on a higher stage.

The accuracy of Deccie Dalton has been a joy to behold for O’Neill’s in the three games over the six days.

Is there another player bar maybe Anthony Nash who drives a ball with such ferocity.

Commit too many indiscretions with this guy around and you will be made pay dearly for it as Charleville, Sars and the Rockies have learned to their cost.

O’Neill’s defeat of the Rockies was the best display of any team in this championship thus far but Midleton’s comeback against Douglas, a fine Douglas side was hugely admirable too.

The major hurling games should be dealt with at this stage but there is an upside too in so far as it is shortening the Winter for all of us.

There will be a huge buzz in Ladysbridge and Ballymacoda this week looking forward to a first-ever final at this level.

It will be similar in Midleton and winning would go quite a distance in compensating for the senior final loss to Imokilly.

Despite all the criticism of things running far too late and all that, this U21 competition has produced some great hurling and the best might yet be in front of us.

A word too on the Premier 2 competition which was won last Sunday by Ballincollig to add to their county intermediate title. That’s a fine achievement by any standards and they had to defeat some good teams to claim the crown.

Courcey Rovers were just one of them in the final but this was another case of success breeding success.

Steve Wills, Ballincollig, battles Richard Sweetnam, Courcey Rovers. Picture: Jim Coughlan
Steve Wills, Ballincollig, battles Richard Sweetnam, Courcey Rovers. Picture: Jim Coughlan

Ballincollig has always produced the best of hurlers through the ages and, though football was dominant for a while, there’s a fine bunch there now ready to take things to a higher level.

It’s never easy in satellite towns such as Ballincollig where you have other codes to contend with. But they are getting it right out there and deserve great credit for that.

We are just three weeks from today to Christmas and the old game is still thriving and these U21 finals are providing a Winter Wonderland for the participants.

Anyway, pencil in next Sunday’s East Cork showdown on the Boreenmanna Road, it will be a cracker with huge bragging rights on offer.

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