A CLASSIC this wasn’t, but a wonderful occasion for Aghada it most certainly was.
The form team, they made no mistake in the latter stages of the championship and dominated from the off on Saturday evening. They were more than worthy winners of this season’s intermediate title.
Their hurling was hard and crisp and Éire Óg were kept at bay throughout. They were seven points clear on Mark Maher’s final whistle, a fair reflection of their performance.
They clipped over four early points through Ronan Kennedy, Will Leahy, Cian Fleming and Pearse O’Neill to set the tone and the closest their opponents got from there on was 0-6 to 0-3. In Leahy, Fleming and John Looney Aghada had three marquee forwards. While none of them shot the lights out, they shared 0-7 from play and each of the trio was fouled for a converted free.
Only Kevin Hallissey looked capable of ripping it up for Éire Óg. He nabbed three lovely scores from play in the first quarter but Jake O’Donoghue curbed his enthusiasm after being switched out from the corner. Aaron Stafford also did a fine man-marking job for Aghada on John Cooper.
Cooper, a Cork minor last year, starred for Éire Óg in the semi-final against Ballincollig, but he was hounded throughout. To Cooper's credit he came into the game in the second half, splitting the posts during a three-point scoring sequence when the Ovens team got a bit of momentum and sub Colm O’Callaghan gave them a lift up front.
Éire Óg, as was the case in 2013 in the final against Kanturk, couldn’t be faulted in their application, with the likes of Aidan O’Connor, Fionn O’Rourke and Dylan Desmond – who made a wonder save from Looney – battling well. They were simply beaten by a better team.
Remarkably this was Aghada’s first ever adult hurling crown. They were promoted out of junior in 1991 when they were runners-up – the same season they went from intermediate to senior in football – and lost intermediate deciders in 2000 and 2005.
Finally getting over the line made this an especially sweet victory for the club. That evident after when their young supporters spilled onto Páirc Uí Rinn and set off a couple of flares which released green smoke over the panel and backroom bouncing around in a circle.
There was no official Man of the Match but the standout could have come from corner-back Tim Hartnett, veteran midfielder Stephen O’Keeffe, who was a ball of energy, or the always-threatening Looney in the half-forward line.
John Paul O’Connor, the captain, and netminder Trevor O’Keeffe rarely put a foot wrong, and sub David Rice was always tidy, while wing-backs Billy Hennessy and Shane Wall sprayed a few excellent passes down the flanks. Basically everyone did their bit, with Kevin O’Hanlon coming on in the closing stages to score and the veteran Ger Melvin introduced to a rapturous reception.
Kudos must go to manager Colm O’Brien, their coach, former Cork ace, Niall McCarthy and selectors Brian Murphy, Martin Hennessy and Kenneth O’Keeffe, for ensuring Aghada were completely focused. Imokilly landed their third senior county only six days before this IHC final with Leahy and Fleming starting and club man Fergal Condon as bainisteoir.
It obviously didn’t have a negative impact and, now they’ve got the job done, makes it a truly unique season. No one could begrudge the likes of Pearse O’Neill, who was particularly influential in the opening quarter, and the O’Keeffes their moment of glory.
Another former Cork football Kieran O’Connor was sitting behind the press box and he was passionately roaring them over the line in the last 10 minutes when Éire Óg had a couple of goal chances through Hallissey and O’Callaghan, before sub Brian Hurley rounded out the scoring.
With no Munster series for the winners of the lower intermediate tier, Aghada can knock a bit of fun out of the celebrations over the next few weeks. They survived a blip early on against Sars’ second string but can now dream of moving towards the senior ranks.
Since intermediate was split 13 years ago, Bandon and Kanturk have captured both the IHC and PIHC titles.
With the likes of Fr O’Neill’s, Valley Rovers, Fermoy and Charleville hugely competitive at premier on their promotion, Aghada can be in the mix for silverware again in 2018.