WHAT a thriller the Premier Intermediate final was in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
No blanket defences, plenty of kick-passing, some mighty scores and total honesty of effort. The scoreline of 1-17 to 1-16 said it all.
Mallow – thanks to subs Pa Herlihy and Aaron Sheehan – will play senior football next season for the first time in eight years. Herlihy nabbed a point, was fouled for a converted free and set up Sheehan’s goal off the bench in a rollercoaster last 15 minutes.
Of course there were plenty of other heroes in red. County finals are usually won by the collective.
Their main men like James Loughrey, Matthew Taylor and Cian O’Riordan embraced the challenge, with 11 points between them, eight from play. Lesser lights like Aaron Cahill, Eoin Stanton and Killian O’Connor stepped up to the mark in the second half.
In doing so, the North Cork club avoided the pain of losing a second county final in eight days, though it was devastation for St Michael’s, defeated in this grade for the third time in the modern era by a point.
We often refer to the excellence of the premier hurling championship, but this was a brilliant ad for football on Leeside. That won’t be much consolation to the city team but they contributed hugely here.
Indeed Michael’s made the early running, going 0-5 to 0-3 ahead. It was level at the break, before Mallow took a grip, 0-12 to 0-8 by the 40th minute. Two sweet Eric Hegarty points and a piledriver from Shane O’Keeffe nudged the city side 1-12 to 0-14 in front after 51 minutes before the grandstand finale.
Hegarty has always been a mercurial playmaker – and overcame a harrowing series of injuries in his youth – and was at the heart of much of Michael’s good work. Paul Cronin was also a constant danger across the half-forward line and while they only hit 0-3 from play between them, the pair were Dazzlers indeed.
That will gall them reflecting on such a narrow loss was they dominated kick-outs for long spells, and got 1-2 from their starting midfielders Niall Cashman and O’Keeffe. They couldn’t make the ball stick up top as often as Mallow did, which was reflected in the fact the winners had four more wides.
Cian O'Riordan, who has long been Mallow's go-to forward, clipped over some typically classy scores and came close to goaling, forcing Michael's keeper Martin Burke, who also denied Loughrey, into a smart stop. Having excelled for Avondhu in recent years, O'Riordan now deservedly returns to senior football with his club.
Loughrey gets caught as a marker for Cork, when it’s clear the former Antrim ace is a dynamic wing-back at heart. This time his switch from full-back to outfield was a major factor in the result, with Loughrey chipping in with 0-2 and getting Mallow’s running game into gear. Taylor also shot two points from the half-backs, and while he had his hands full with Hegarty, that was massive in such a tight contest.
St Michael’s were beaten in three senior finals in a row between 1976 and 1979 – to who else but Nemo (twice) and the Barrs – and have been fairly competitive in other periods as a senior club. Losing PIFC deciders in 2012 and 2009, both by a point, to Carrigaline and St Vincent’s respectively would have hurt because neither club kicked on at the top level.
They won this title, before intermediate wasn’t split in two, back in 1969 and 1998, but despite being competitive – and winning Premier 1 competitions – underage, it hasn’t really translated to the adult grade.
Mallow flirted with senior silverware in 2004 – Ned English was coaching – narrowly losing at the semi-final stage, but really they haven’t established themselves at the summit. They lifted intermediate silverware in 1992 and 2007, but, perhaps due to dual demands, they haven’t been a senior force.
That was an undercurrent yesterday. Mallow lost the PIHC final to Kanturk nine days ago; the hurling arm of St Michael’s will be in the Páirc next Sunday when Blackrock take on Imokilly. For many teams the crossover between both codes is a hindrance, though Bandon and Valley Rovers won doubles in the modern era, but the dual players on the Mallow and Michael’s panels was minimal.
The momentum the Mallow hurlers generated, even there were only three players involved across the two panels, no doubt got them through a few tough tests this summer. The hope now in Blackrock is their hurlers – seven lined out yesterday – can rebound in the senior final next Sunday.