THESE are very exciting times for hurling in east Cork and the Imokilly side that will line out tomorrow in Páirc Uí Chaoimh is a prime example of the talent the region has to offer.
Imokilly are in their first Cork County senior hurling final since 2001 and the divisional side has been impressing more and more as the season has gone on.
Players such as Seamus Harnedy and Paudie O’Sullivan are among those who have featured in the Cork Senior hurling set-up in recent years, with the pair instrumental in their semi-final replay victory over Sarsfields.
Another one of Imokilly’s marquee players is Brian Lawton. He helped himself to 0-3 points in the semi-final replay and was a massive influence in midfield.
Twenty-eight-year-old Lawton, who made his Cork senior hurling debut against Offaly in the National League back in 2014, was awarded the Reardens man of the match for his display in the semi-final.
Speaking to the Evening Echo, Lawton talked about the excitement in the Imokilly camp and how they are relishing tomorrow’s challenge.
“We are looking forward to it now. We went back training on Tuesday night and we have done our best to prepare for Blackrock.
“It was just a matter of keeping the head down for the week and preparing as best as we can. We are all looking forward to the final.
“For myself and most of the lads it will be our first time in a senior county final, Paudie is probably only one who has played in one before.
“There has been a great bond built throughout the year between the panel and the management. Getting to the senior county final is huge for Imokilly and for the clubs around the division.
“For ourselves, we might never get the chance to get to a senior county final with our clubs, so this is a great opportunity,” said Lawton who won the east Cork title in 2009 with his club Castlemartyr.
Given the sheer battles they have been involved in, needing replays to see off the challenges of Sarsfields and Erins Own on the way to the Páirc Uí Chaoimh decider, Imokilly will be playing for the fifth weekend in a row tomorrow.
It can often be a challenge getting everyone together to play for a divisional side with players having their club, and for some, inter-county commitments.
Lawton feels that playing games every week for the past month can only be a benefit ahead of tomorrow’s final.
“For a divisional team like Imokilly, it was a good thing to have been able to play five weeks in a row in the championship because we have managed to get games into us.
“There was a large gap during the summer when we had no game in the championship.
“In particular, I think that the replay against Erins Own really brought us on and the first game against Sarsfields helped to bring us on even more.
“Imokilly have been very lucky with the management team involved and the amount of work that they have put in. There are some very talented hurlers in the division and that can be seen with the amount of lads who have played with Cork at various levels.”
Tomorrow’s final will be a repeat of the 2001 decider which saw the Rockies come out on top.
“Blackrock are a huge hurling club with a huge history. They have won a number of U21 county titles over the last couple of years, so they have been coming.
“I would know a couple of the lads that were involved in the Cork set-up like Stephen Murphy for example. They have some great players and we will really have to be at our best tomorrow,” he added.
Imokilly have not won the county title since their back-to-back victories in 1997 and 1998.
They will be hoping that, 20 years on, this could perhaps be the dawn of a new golden era.