This was club hurling at its finest... we can't wait for the semi-finals

This was club hurling at its finest... we can't wait for the semi-finals
Imokilly's Shane Hegarty and Will Leahy close down Newcestown's Jack Meade. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

IN many instances, this year the final few minutes have often compensated for the fare that we have witnessed earlier.

That was very much the case in the All-Ireland final when Galway came roaring back at Limerick before the men in green held out for victory after some nerve-jangling moments.

We had late drama too in three of the four quarter-finals of the Cork County SHC over the weekend and it provided wonderful entertainment in games that had never really ignited prior to that.

Luke O'Farrell is tackled by Newtown's Jamie Coughlan. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Luke O'Farrell is tackled by Newtown's Jamie Coughlan. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

In most games now we have five or six minutes of additional time and it has been illustrated how tense things can become in those frenetic moments.

Take Imokilly and Newcestown last Sunday, Imokilly seemingly coasting to victory until Newcestown lashed in a brace of goals.

Those scores made it a one-point game with Imokilly clinging on for dear life before they finally breathed a huge, collective sigh of relief.

In the first game, UCC seemed to have matters wrapped up as well against Sars, leading by six points until Danny Kearney banged in a goal.

The margin was down to three now and UCC were forced to defend like hell to prevent an equalising goal.

Midleton secured a last-gasp win too over Newtownshandrum the previous day, young Cormac Beausang posting the winning point deep in added-time.

In fact, the only game over the four quarter-finals that we didn’t get late drama was in the Barrs-Rockies encounter.

This was done and dusted from a good distance out and there was to be no heroics from the Barrs in trying to get back into the game.

Overall, there was nothing thunderous about any of the four games but the final minutes had everybody on the edge of their seats in three of them.

The old adage of, ‘it’s never over until the fat lady sings’ certainly came into play and that made for heart-stopping stuff.

So what did we make of the games?

There is definitely a strong case to be made for suggesting that the most impressive winners were the Rockies.

Much was anticipated from the local derby with their southside rivals but they were, by a good distance, the superior unit.

Slowly but surely they continue to motor along nicely on the highway towards what they hope will be another final appearance, 12 months after going down to Imokilly.

They are a year older now and, more importantly, a year wiser and if you are looking for a bunch of players who are very well-balanced throughout the field, they fit that bill.

In their previous 32 titles going all the way back to the late 1880s, their teams were littered with big games, inter-county stars. Not this one, however. They have a few on the fringes of the Cork panel but nothing in comparison to some of the others.

This is a team that is well-constructed defensively, there is a strong work-ethic in midfield and they have scoring forwards.

St Finbarr's Billy Hennessy and Blackrock's Tadhg Deasy tussle for the ball. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
St Finbarr's Billy Hennessy and Blackrock's Tadhg Deasy tussle for the ball. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

We are not saying that they are going to win it and end a long famine in Church Road but they are back in the last four on merit and seem to have taken on board things that might have caught them out last season.

Midleton were probably too preoccupied with their game on Saturday against Newtown to study them up closely but they will be fully aware now that they will be taking on a very honest bunch of hurlers in the semi-final and that they themselves will have to raise the bar much higher than they did against Newtown.

Before we even looked at the Imokilly team to take on Newcestown we had a look at their subs bench and found four or five players who were on the starting 15 in last season’s final but who cannot make the team now.

You could add another four or five to that who would be nearly automatic starters on most other teams.

But that still gives them no guarantee and they were far from being at their best against Newcestown.

Maybe they foolishly took the West Cork team for granted, maybe the thinking throughout the game was that we’ll do enough and get through anyway.

Well, they must not have been aware that of all the clubs in this championship, Newcestown are the one that will never surrender.

They’ll battle to the death, it’s in their DNA and those late, late goals which frightened the living daylights out of Imokilly was proof of that.

The East Cork team was damn lucky here that they had just enough of a cushion to get through.

Too many of their marquee names didn’t play at the top-end of their game and there will need to be a re-think before they face UCC.

Now that the College are in the semi-final we’ll have the usual moaning and groaning about them and that they should not be in this championship at all.

That’s rubbish, always has been because what UCC hurling has done for Cork down the years cannot be measured.

In most UCC teams, the vast majority are Cork-based players anyway and what’s wrong with a player like Shane Conway from Lixnaw getting an opportunity to win a major county senior championship medal, something that would never be the case otherwise?

UCC's Eoin Clifford tackles Sarsfields' Luke Hackett. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
UCC's Eoin Clifford tackles Sarsfields' Luke Hackett. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

And let’s face it, UCC are not winning the county every year, in fact, they have won only two altogether.

How many of Cork’s All-Ireland-winning stars down the years became better hurlers because of their involvement with UCC.

And as their team manager Gacchie Walsh said last Sunday, aren’t we all hurling men anyway.

UCC are a welcome addition to the last four and themselves and Imokilly could be the game of the year.

Imokilly remain the title favourites because of the depth of their resources but there are no guarantees.

This championship is as wide open as it has ever been and take nothing for granted.

Footnote: Once again we will have the Rearden’s All-Stars team at the end of the campaign and the player of the county final This is one of the most looked forward to events of the year now and great credit to the Washington Street establishment for their sponsorship of these awards.

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