The Christy O'Connor column: Kanturk are blazing unique trail on both fronts

The Christy O'Connor column: Kanturk are blazing unique trail on both fronts
Kanturk's Mark Healy is tackled by Mallow's Jack O'Hanlon. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

HEADING down the home strait of the recent Cork Intermediate football final, Kanturk did what Kanturk do when the heat comes late on — they grit their teeth and grind out tight wins.

Trailing Mitchelstown by two points on 47 minutes, Kanturk responded with five points in a row.

Goalkeeper Jordan Fullerton was called on to make an outstanding save to deny Mitchelstown’s Dave Dineen a goal and, while two Seán O’Sullivan frees brought Mitchelstown back to within a point, Kanturk dug in, holding possession to deny any chance of an equaliser in the closing stages.

Kanturk's James Fitzpatrick tussles with Mitchelstown's Shane Beston. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Kanturk's James Fitzpatrick tussles with Mitchelstown's Shane Beston. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Those same traits had been on show in the premier intermediate hurling final a couple of weeks earlier when Kanturk squeezed out the win against Mallow by two points. A Gerry Hayes goal in the 55th minute looked to have put Mallow in the driving seat but Aidan Walsh, Lorcán McLoughlin, and Ryan Walsh landed late points for Kanturk to lay their hands on the Seamus Long Cup.

Kanturk know no other way. They led Ballyduff by six points in the Munster Intermediate semi-final two weeks ago but Ballyduff looked to have all the momentum when Paul O’Carroll scooped the ball past Anthony Nash to level the match entering injury time.

Kanturk never panicked; Ian Walsh found the Ballyduff net before two late points sealed the victory in Tralee.

The hurlers struggled last year, only winning a relegation semi-final against Tracton, but, in the last five years, no other club has chiselled out so many results in tight championship games, in both hurling and football.

Kanturk's Anthony Nash with manager Donagh Duane. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Kanturk's Anthony Nash with manager Donagh Duane. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Kanturk obviously have three very experienced players — Anthony Nash, Lorcán McLoughlin, and Aidan Walsh — whose leadership is always critical in those situations, but this is a team laced with quality talent: John McLoughlin has been involved in Cork football squads; Darren Browne captained the Cork U21 hurlers this year; Ryan Walsh was centre-back for the Cork minors in 2016.

Liam O’Keeffe, Lorcan O’Neill, Paul and Ian Walsh, and John Browne are all really good club players, too.

Four county titles (Junior and Intermediate football, Intermediate and Premier Intermediate hurling) in six years highlights the journey this group has been on this decade, especially when Kanturk’s hurlers and footballers had never played higher than the third tier of the Cork championships.

In so many ways though, Kanturk have been blazing a unique trail across Cork GAA this decade.

When Nash and Walsh won All-Stars in 2012, Kanturk became just the fourth club to win All-Stars in both codes in the same season, two of which — St Finbarr’s and Ballyboden St Enda’s — would have been regarded as city superpowers at that particular time.

Historically, Kanturk rarely produced county players but the first time they did also provided a rich bounty.

Johnny O’Mahony and Mick O’Loughlin played on the Cork football team which lost the 1967 All-Ireland final to Meath but that boon coincided with the early developmental stages of Kanturk as a hurling power in Duhallow.

They won five Divisional Junior titles in a row before finally securing their first county title at the end of that sequence in 1969.

After later being regraded from Intermediate, a separate juvenile section was set up in 1974 to incubate the hurling culture and it grew exponentially; Kanturk won ten divisional minor titles in a row between 1975 and 1984.

Although the club is deeply embedded in the football-dominated Duhallow division, both codes had still always co-existed on the same level.

Hurling, though, assumed a more powerful status after Kanturk bridged a 33-year gap to win a Divisional junior title in 2002, before retaining it a year later.

They didn’t win a county title in either of those years but Kanturk were offered the opportunity to go Intermediate when the county board restructured their championships in 2004.

They grabbed it.

That shift in a greater focus to hurling had the potential to create tension and friction but it never did.

Kanturk players just kept creating history wherever they went.

Key dual players Lorcán and John McLoughlin. Picture: John Tarrant
Key dual players Lorcán and John McLoughlin. Picture: John Tarrant

Nash broke the mould by winning an All-Ireland minor hurling medal in 2001 but he was also a Cork minor footballer. Lorcán McLoughlin was a county minor footballer for three years. Walsh and McLoughlin won Munster minor hurling medals in 2008 and All-Ireland U21 football medals in 2009.

Their generation blazed a new path for Kanturk at underage but there were plenty of staging posts along the journey. Walsh and the McLoughlins played in two All-Ireland Vocational Schools hurling finals with Coláiste Treasa in Kanturk. Tom O’Connell, a teacher from Kilmallock, drove that group to a whole new level.

It was unique for a school in a football-dominant division to reach All-Ireland hurling finals but Kanturk has always had a unique sporting tradition.

The local rugby club, which were re-established in 1974, were voted Munster Junior Club of the Year in June 2013. A strong basketball tradition produced former Ireland captain Brian Clernon.

Kanturk and its modern GAA players have continued to break new ground, but, in a historic season where the club have reached the senior grade for the first time, greater history is already beckoning in Sunday’s Munster Intermediate final. Kanturk face a formidable opponent in Kilmaley from Clare, who only lost the 2015 Clare senior semi-final to Clonlara after a replay.

They have serious ambitions, too, of winning a Munster club title but the Clare side will have to overcome a group that has made a habit of making history in recent years.

Especially in tight games.

Kanturk's Donnacha Kennelly shoots from Mallow's Paul Lyons. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Kanturk's Donnacha Kennelly shoots from Mallow's Paul Lyons. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

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