Imokilly's success didn't happen overnight, they've played 130 games since 2015

Imokilly's success didn't happen overnight, they've played 130 games since 2015
Ballyhea's Eugene O'Leary takes on Imokilly's Mark O'Keeffe in 2015. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

NOW for the three-n-a-row.

Imokilly would not declare that ambition publicly but have no doubt, the East Cork divisional side will spare nothing in their attempts to win the Cork County SHC for a third-year running in 2019.

Last Saturday night at the county convention Glen Rovers submitted a motion that divisional teams should be omitted altogether from the championship. If that motion had been successful there would have been no three-in-a-row attempt by Imokilly and that would have been that.

As events transpired, there was little support for the city club’s motion and the status quo prevails which gives the green light for the East Corkmen to try and achieve what would be a historic feat for a divisional unit. 

They have already been installed as hot favourites for the title again but that guarantees nothing as things can change quickly in any sporting code. So why have Imokilly become so successful when the rest of the divisions are trailing far behind.

There are a number of answers to that poser, chief among them is that they are the best-organised side and are led by a management team that puts in a huge effort on and off the field. Behind every good group of players, there has to be a strong team boss and a team of individuals who are willing to put in that effort.

In previewing games involving divisional teams we all too often discover that there’s been no collective gathering in advance of a championship game.

“We only got together on Thursday night,’’ is often the declaration.

Of course, it’s not easy these days to get players for the divisional side released by their clubs. The club has to be the number one priority for any club.

Imokilly’s season begins around the same time as the SHL begins for the clubs, late February or early March. Challenge games are constantly being organised, some of them outside the county as far away as Wexford.

In most of those challenge games they are without their bigger name players, obviously, those involved in the Cork set-up, a lot of others too.

But such is the organisation behind their project that there is always up to 20 players available on any given occasion. There is no doubt that their cause is helped by the presence of so many vibrant clubs in the division, ones whose tradition and history gives them a very solid platform.

But it’s that organisation from the top that makes so much of a difference.

Fergal Condon was at pains to stress the work that the players do and how competitive the environment has become.

“We took it over in 2015 and built it up to what it is. It 30-34 fellas, firstly trying to get into the match panel and then trying to get into the team itself.

“I would say since 2015 we have played around 120 to 130 games. We are well used to patterns of play, the styles of the teams that we play and I think that we know how to adapt.

“At this point in time we have a very good panel, you had players like Ger Millerick and Deccie dalton not starting in the county final, Millerick was the Man of the Match in last year’s final.

“Those players would get into most teams in the county. It’s all about earning the jersey, all the players know that.’’ 

Fergal Condon celebrating after the county final. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Fergal Condon celebrating after the county final. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Team selector Sean Harnedy concurs with that and he told the Evening Echo during the week that it had been four very positive years since the management team took the reins.

“We have been involved for four years and, obviously, the last two have been great ones.

“I suppose the thing we put much emphasis on from the start was a youth policy, getting players to grow into what we wanted.

“We put a lot of emphasis too in constructing a panel of around 45, then whittling it down to 30.

“Those players that we brought in made it very difficult for us because firstly you can have only 30 on a panel and maybe less on match days.

“The competition for places was huge, fellas wanted to play for Imokilly and that was hugely important.

“I suppose we gained more than we lost in so far as we lost none to the clubs, unlike the situation back in the ‘90s when a few clubs were elevated to senior status’’.

It all starts very early in the division, something that has served the management well over the past few years.

“We start in February in March and try to get in as many challenge games as we can. We don’t have our inter-county players, obviously, and it’s not easy to get them all together at the one time with league games etc.

“We are still looking out to embellish the squad and we have a few good younger guys like Joe Stack from Castlemartyr and Liam O’Shea from Lisgoold coming through.’’

So what about the three-in-a-row?

“Look, there’s no talk of that. We know it will be even harder again next season and we nearly got beaten by Newcestown this season.

“When you are up there you are there to be brought down and I know there’s plenty who want to do that. But the players will push on, we’ll push on too. The players get on great and we have put emphasis on that too, building up a spirit in the squad.

“We are like a club team now, we are like everybody else, we love hurling in Imokilly and we are there to facilitate those lads on the squad.

“Yes, we would love to win another one but that’s a long way down the line.’’

Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Picture: Eddie O'Hare

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