IN 2001, Imokilly and Blackrock met in a county final with the joint-status as the best teams of that period.
Blackrock had been champions in 1999.
It was Blackrock’s third final appearance in four years but it was Imokilly’s third final in five seasons.
And that 2001 team had produced some of the best hurling the Divisional side had ever played.
Blackrock had some excellent players but so had Imokilly; Joe Deane, Niall McCarthy, Mick Daly, Derek Barrett, Ronan Dwane, Bernard Rochford and Brendan Coleman.
Imokilly went into the game fully confident but Blackrock won by seven points.
Alan Browne did the bulk of the scoring, nailing 3-8 out of 4-8.
Imokilly’s main forward, Deane, only managed 0-2, one from play, as he was cleaned out by Wayne Sherlock.
That was a serious Blackrock team, which won three county titles in four years, but the starting point of the journey began in 1998 when the Rockies lost a county final to Imokilly by five points.
Blackrock finally ended a 14-year drought the following year when hammering UCC in the final but Blackrock went into that 2001 decider on a mission of atonement, especially against a side which Blackrock would traditionally have never feared.
That was Imokilly’s glorious era, with county titles won in 1997 and 1998, but it also coincided with the Rockies modern renaissance.
Imokilly haven’t been in a final since. Blackrock reached five finals in six years but they haven’t been back on this stage since 2003.
These teams have no history together now like they had back then.
Imokilly have been the form team coming into this final.
They are hot favourites to win on Sunday but this game still has shades and colours of 2001 all over it; Blackrock would never have any fear of Imokilly.
Imokilly have excellent forwards.
They will be expected to run the Blackrock defence into the ground but Na Piarsaigh’s attack expected to run the Rockies defence into submission too and it didn’t happen.
Imokilly have come through a much harder side of the draw but tradition and county finals go hand-in-hand with the Rockies.
Trying to end a 15-year wait will have sharpened Blackrock’s hunger but their appetite will be even more voracious with around half the team having lost last Sunday’s Intermediate football final with St Michael’s, especially when it was St Michael’s third one-point final defeat in six seasons.
For all the big names Imokilly have too, especially up front, Blackrock’s young players will believe they have a much better pedigree and longer tradition of winning county titles.
A number of these players have two minor and three U21 titles.
Imokilly have the potential to win this game by ten points but county finals don’t always play out the way they’re expected to.
Blackrock’s recent underage success hasn’t made their return to this stage the surprise many deem it to be.
Imokilly had been a ghost in the county championship proper for close to a decade before finally reappearing on the stage in 2015 with an impressive win against UCC.
That was definitely a turning point for Imokilly. The team that defeated UCC had shown 10 changes in personnel from the side which lost to Carbery in the 2014 championship.
Seven U21s were brought into the panel, while the biggest names available in the Division had bought into Fergal Condon’s project.
They lost to Erin’s Own in the fourth round last year but when Erin’s Own went on to reach the final, which they narrowly lost to Glen Rovers, Imokilly knew that they weren’t far away.
Their first statement of intent was whacking Bishopstown in the opening round in May by 20 points.
Prolonged layoffs are always difficult for clubs to manage when the county team is going well but it’s even harder for Divisional and Colleges teams.
They crave momentum and a sustained run of games and Imokilly have got both at just the right time, defeating Erins Own and Sars, both after replays.
They conceded a raft of goals in those matches but they battled back each time, which is a further endorsement of their spirit for a Divisional side.
Players from nine different clubs saw game-time in the replay against Sars last weekend.
That statistic highlights the potential within this Imokilly squad but honing a successful team from a Division where every club has its own goals and priorities has been a testament to Condon and his management.
Imokilly have always taken the senior championship seriously.
They just didn’t always have the players to match that ambition but this is a very good team, with a nice mix of youth and experience. Having a former (Paudie O’Sullivan) and two current (Seamus Harnedy and Brian Lawton) inter-county forwards is a huge boon to any club team but Imokilly have some excellent young players too; Declan Dalton made his name on the inter-county scene this year as a forward with the U21s against Waterford but he is a top-class goalkeeper; Ger Mellerick was a county minor this year; Niall O’Leary was a Cork minor last year.
On paper, and on current form, Imokilly are entitled to be favourites.
Blackrock are a big, strong physical team who will feel tailor-made for the difficult underfoot conditions at this time of year.
And they will also be playing on their huge tradition of 32 county titles.
The Rockies will have always that strength of heritage and history behind them.
Blackrock are desperately trying to carve out a new modern history but after waiting almost two decades for another quality team to come along, Imokilly will see this final as a huge opportunity to write a new and glorious chapter in their history.