LAST Saturday at Páirc Uí Chaoimh was as sweet as they come for Conor Lehane.
Despite a muscular injury which restricted his training recently, he was in irrepressible form for Midleton against Glen Rovers. Wearing the number 11 geansaí but operating in the full-forward slot, he opened the scoring with a terrific goal and ended the evening with 1-10 to his name, 1-6 from play.
It's no exaggeration to compare his display with the 2013 county final when his 2-10 against Sars fired Midleton to the county title. This was only the third round of course, but given Glen's status as favourites, Midleton's disappointments in recent years, and the fact they had a man sent off late on, it was a massive boost for the club.
"They’re sweet wins with the clubs and especially when you haven’t played with them for ages," conceded Lehane. "It was the first round all over again in one way but it felt like a county final too, in the Páirc, sunny evening, great atmosphere. I thought it was game, set and match towards the end, to be honest, a man down and after fading out of it."
The 26-year-old AIB employee felt keeper Tommy Wallis, who made four saves including stopping a Patrick Horgan penalty on the stroke of half-time, and young centre-back Sean O'Leary Hayes, last year's Cork minor captain, deserved huge credit. The likes of Seádnaidh Smyth, Cormac Beausang and James Nagle were also in top form in the Pairc.
"Tommy Wallis’ save from the penalty was vital really. And Seán O’Leary Hayes slotted over a brilliant winner. He nearly had too much time and I made a mess of a pick-up myself just before that because of the same thing. He’s a huge talent so it was great for him to decide it."
Given his limited training time, the Midleton faithful had been concerned beforehand that Lehane's contribution would be restricted.
"Rumours get out of hand. I was resting up a good bit just because I wanted to be right for this. I felt good out there so hopefully it’ll hold up from here."
It was Lehane's first game since Cork's All-Ireland semi-final loss to Limerick, when he hit 2-3, a defeat that still nagging the Cork supporters.
"The way Limerick played you just have to admire it. The way they played in the final and the way they came back against, as gutting as it is, you have to respect what they did and give them huge credit.
"They kept their heads and you wouldn’t begrudge them at all but it was sickening in another way," Lehane honestly admitted. "Everyone is in the same boat though, because all the teams are so close these days."
Next summer won't be any easier, Cork away to Limerick and Clare as well as hosting Tipp and Waterford in the Munster round robin series. That's of no concern for Lehane right now. Midleton now have a glorious opportunity to get back to the county final for the first time since that 2013 success.
They take on Newtownshandrum next and beyond that a semi-final against St Finbarr's, Blackrock or Ballymartle. On paper, the Magpies are favourites to progress. That's a place they've been before and Lehane isn't entertaining such talk.
"We’ve got caught before because we’d be thinking four games ahead, and that will be in your head when you’ve won the county before, you know you could do it again. You can’t let your mind wander, or listen to what predictions people are making about how it will all go.
"I think we’ve learned from that but it was the same last year, we were going very well as a team and we were unlucky enough against UCC."
He doesn't deny though that knocking the Glen out of a championship was one of Midleton's most significant wins in recent years.
"This is a massive boost for us because the Glen are a class team. They’ve proved it time and again."
The Glen had got a grip on the game midway through the second half, upping their work-rate with the likes of David Dooling, Donal Cronin, Dean Brosnan and Brian Moylan driving them on to go two points up.
The East Cork side only settled again after they were reduced to 14 men with eight minutes of normal time to go. From there to the finish they outscored the Glen 0-3 to no score, largely based on their intensity from the full-forward line back.
"It wrecks your head when you see the momentum slip away, it’s the most frustrating thing on earth. It comes down to hooking and blocking. All of us have to do it, you can’t let the frustration distract us. From here on we can trust ourselves to do that at the end of a tight game."