THERE’S an old adage that states that you only get something out of what you put in and that surely applied to the hurlers of Imokilly this year.
The viewpoint for some time now has been that the days of divisional dominance in the Cork senior championships are long gone and it was difficult to disagree with that given how poorly divisional teams had been performing.
You can criticise the various divisional units all you want and their failure to make a meaningful impact in recent times but, at the end of the day, it has not been made easy for them.
In every division throughout the county there is huge potential and in a perfect world, every one of them would be quite capable of impacting heavily in the two flagship competitions.
However, with the club structure the way that it is now and the reluctance of those clubs to release their players to the divisions. there are mitigating circumstances.
Some club players are just not interested in lining out with the divisional units and then you have club games being scheduled 24 hours before a divisional team is due to go into battle.
All these things combined make it virtually impossible to have a vibrant divisional team that is strong enough to challenge at the business end of the campaign.
Well, Imokilly overcame all those obstacles in their march to glory last October and their achievement was a lesson to what could be achieved.
To be fair, there was always a decent effort being made in the barony and Fergal Condon’s predecessor, Ronan Dwane did his utmost to try and make things happen.
East Cork is a hurling hotbed, was is and always will be and the selection, despite the fact that there are so many senior clubs in the region, is still vast.
This year and last year’s management team, led by Aghada man Condon decided that they could construct a squad of players that would make a meaningful effort to make a challenge.
They met the players very early in the season, outlined their plans and put in place a structure that would not impact on their involvement with their clubs and that would overcome the participation of so many of their players in the inter-county scene.
The players were willing and bought into the plan and from February to October a phenomenal effort was put in by the group.
The length and breadth of the country was travelled and a total of 23 games were played between challenge encounters and championship assignments.
On many occasions, the top players were marked absent because of inter-county duties and for other reasons as well.
But the show stayed firmly on the road and there was never less than 20 players present for any of the numerous challenge games that they played, games that included trips to Wexford and Waterford.
When did that ever happen before with a divisional team?
Of course, it helped that when you came to the championship encounters you had quality players like Seamus Harnedy, Brian Lawton, Paudie O’Sullivan, Colm Barry and John Cronin involved.
Throw in younger guns like Deccie Dalton, Ger Millerick, Mark O’Keeffe and others and you had the perfect blend.
While the Imokilly star shone brightly, the rest of the divisions' lights went out very quickly, some of them struggling to put 15 players together on a match day.
Duhallow, to be fair, won a few games but the less said about the others the better.
There’s no point in going over Imokilly’s march to the title again and they had a few close shaves along the journey, most notably in their derby encounters against Sars and Erin’s Own.
Many believed that when push came to shove in the final few laps they would get done by the spirit of the club teams.
Well, it was the opposite being the case, Imokilly playing like a club side to land the spoils.
They were never miles ahead of some of their opponents, Sars, Erin’s Own and the Rockies coming down the home stretch but they always managed to find a way, a little similar to the teams of 1997 and 1998, the last great teams from the region.
Now the question is being posed, what can we expect from them in 2018, will the players, now with county medals tucked away, have the same desire again.
Who knows but there’s one thing that we do know, their selection will be even stronger next time with the availability of Colm and Anthony Spillane from Castlelyons, Bill Cooper and maybe others from Youghal and Barry Lawton from Castlemartyr.
Fr O’Neill’s Billy Dunne will be back too from a terrible leg injury.
The management are staying on board too and whilst the number of games might be lessened, they will want to replicate the teams of the late ‘90s when back to back titles were won.
Retaining the championship in Cork is never easy and the great Newtown and Sars teams who won eight counties between them since 2000 never managed to retain it.
Things change from year to year but, right now, it makes a lot of sense to put Imokilly into the favourite’s slot for the 2018 Cork County SHC.
They certainly look the best bet, on paper anyway, to be top dogs again but, no doubt, Sars, Erin’s Own, the city teams and Midleton will have a lot to say about that.