The John Horgan column: The Rockies rebirth has been a major part of a memorable season

The John Horgan column: The Rockies rebirth has been a major part of a memorable season
Blackrock's Eoin Smith is tackled by Na Piarsaigh's Patrick Rourke. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

IT has taken a bit longer than might have been envisaged but Blackrock’s return to the county senior hurling final stage is a reward for consistent success at minor and under-21 level.

It does not always follow that good minor and U21 teams progress to further glory and sometimes it never happens. Blackrock have won nothing yet at senior level but their victory over Na Piarsaigh last Sunday will be viewed very positively in a club that stands alone as the most successful in Cork hurling with 32 titles to its credit.

Let’s be honest, they were not one of the teams that were expected to be challenging at the latter end of October but, slowly but surely, they have worked their way into a position where they will now believe that they can end a lengthy famine in Church Road.

They will probably go in as underdogs against the winners of the Sarsfields-Imokilly replay but that won’t cause too much bother down by the river.

They were underdogs too against Na Piarsaigh last Sunday, finding themselves in very troubled waters after half-time when they conceded two goals to find themselves five points in arrears.

For a lesser bunch of individuals who are still very young in terms of competing at this stage of the championship, that could have been catastrophic.

After all, there are no marquee names on this Rockies team, they don’t have somebody like Patrick Horgan who was able to take the game by the scruff of the neck when the Glen found themselves in difficulty in games during their two-year stay at the top.

Go back to 2013, it was the same when Conor Lehane dragged Midleton through in a similar fashion when they took the title against Sars.

No, the Rockies don’t have those type of players but, by god, they have a collective work ethic and a great desire to succeed, something that has been instilled into them by Fergal Ryan and Wayne Sherlock.

You could not have two better men on the line with these players than these two great Blackrock servants.

They worked themselves back into the contest on Sunday after those two potentially killer goals and in the end they found themselves back in a final for the first time in 14 years.

They may or may not climb the podium on the final day but they will enter the final with as strong a chance as their Imokilly or Sars opponents.

There is a fine balance to this Rockies team, one that has virtually grown up together in Church Road.

They had to answer some tough questions en-route to the final but each time they have come up with the required answers.

Now the biggest one of all awaits in the final but they will be ready against a team that will be playing for the fourth week on the trot on October 22.

In terms of miles travelled in this championship this season, Imokilly and Sars have quite a lot on their clocks and two of their stars last Sunday, Cian Fleming and Will Leahy are preparing for a massive day out as well with their club Aghada.

The Rockies are safely berthed in the final and they will be formidable opponents for whichever team from East Cork squares up against them.

If one of the East Cork teams does come up trumps against them on that final day, they will certainly have earned it. As mentioned, playing four championship games in four weeks which will be the case for one of them on October 22 and that could take its toll.

Imokilly's Josh Beausang clears from Sarsfields' Jack O'Connor. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Imokilly's Josh Beausang clears from Sarsfields' Jack O'Connor. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Imokilly will have left Páirc Uí Chaoimh somewhat disappointed that they didn’t see out the game with Sars. A couple of times during the course of the hour they held decent leads, one by six points and twice by four.

On all three occasions, however, they were unable to push on and found themselves having to depend on a last-gasp equaliser from Paudie O’Sullivan to keep them in the equation.

It was a similar situation against Erin’s Own in their drawn encounter, they led by seven points at one juncture in the game but again had to depend on a Declan Dalton point from the last puck of that game to keep them alive.

They are not putting teams away when they find themselves in a position to do so and, in stark contrast to the Rockies, they have quite a few more of what you would describe as marquee players.

Cian Fleming was, by a good distance, their best player last Sunday and he was involved with Aghada in a major championship semi-final the night previous.

There remains huge potential in this Imokilly team and their management team deserves huge credit for the effort that they have put in over the past seven or eight months.

Realistically, every season now they are the only divisional side worth placing a bet on that will give you a decent run for your money.

Whilst they maybe should not have needed a second day out to see off Erin’s Own and maybe they should have beaten Sars last Sunday, they are still exhibiting a deep resolve to extricate themselves from the life or death situation that they were in in both games.

Of course, they are up against a club side that has a quite remarkable record since it made the big breakthrough in 2008.

They are still firmly on course for an eight-county final appearance in 10 years and that has to be viewed as being remarkably consistent. And maybe that level of experience of being there and having done that will make the big difference when it’s all done and dusted.

Who knows. The senior championship might not be what it once was but it still continues to generate plenty of drama and so many of the games this year have gone right down to the wire.

The Rockies started it off with a late, late goal against Bandon in their opener and it has continued in that vein. Barring another draw, we now have two games left and maybe there’s a lot more of that type of drama to come.

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