IMOKILLY'S day in the sun arrived on Sunday, and they fully deserved it.
After a nervous 60 plus minutes, they bridged that 19-year gap since their last victory in 1998.
They were pushed to the pin of their collar by a very capable Blackrock side, but all year this divisional team have shown enough form to suggest they could weather the storm.
Twice holding off Erin’s Own (quarter-final) and Sarsfields (semi-final) stood to them, it made them resilient. Having matches week after week helped too.
This is a strong Imokilly outfit, but that didn’t happen by accident or overnight.
Fergal Condon (in his third year as manager) and his backroom team of Jimmy Smiddy (Castlemartyr), Derek Barrett (Cobh), Ciaran Cronin (Lisgoold) and Sean Harnedy (St Ita’s) have invested a great deal of time and energy in their squad. They all have a good handle on East Cork hurling, and know their players inside out. All the plaudits are justifiable.
Yes, the luxury of such divisional teams is the selection at their disposal, and they can choose from Premier intermediate, intermediate and junior clubs.
The flip side is the pressure that comes with that, trying to galvanize players with many dissimilar backgrounds and (in)experience.
Eight different clubs were represented by the 17 players that took to the field yesterday. Very few of them would ever get a chance of winning a county senior medal. One of these was Seamus Harnedy from St Ita’s.
As his father Sean said afterwards, “It is great for Seamie and Ciarán O’Brien, we are from a small club in Cork and for the captain to bring the Cup home is unreal. The priest this morning at home in Gortroe wished them good luck from the altar.” There is only so much a manager can do. Once the sliotar is throw in, the players take over.
What a leader Seamus Harnedy has been all through the campaign. His goal immediately after half-time was a killer-blow to Blackrock. In fact, Imokilly have plenty of chiefs, and we have seen them at different stages throughout the championship.
The likes of Declan Dalton, Colm Barry, John Cronin, Mark O’Keeffe, Ger Millerick, Brian Lawton and Paudie O’Sullivan. And of course, there is an opportunity for further glory for Aghada’s William Leahy and Cian Fleming. Two outstanding forwards who have the IHC final against Éire Óg to look forward to next Saturday night.
Fleming applied the perfect finish for his goal, while Leahy took over the free-taking duties and nailed five points. Imokilly’s third goal at the death from substitute Brian Mulcahy typified the strength of the bench. We see more and more, how winning is all about the panel and being able to introduce players that won’t weaken your hand and who can get you over the line.
Also, we mustn’t forget there could be more silverware for St Catherine’s Mulcahy and Dan Mangan who will contest the Cork JAHC final against either Nemo Rangers or Brian Dillons.
One thing that strikes you about Imokilly is they are as close to a club side as you can get, and that is because of the amount of time they spend together, and the matches they have played between championship and challenge games. This was their seventh championship outing.
Great credit too goes to the Imokilly rear-guard. They must have been tired of people criticising them for leaking goals, a lot of goals – 16 overall in six championship matches. They were fortunate in that they were putting up sizeable scores as well which enabled them to see off the various oppositions. It had to be a concern again ahead of the final.
Dalton didn’t get many shots to stop, which would correctly suggest his backs did well. Three of the defenders – Kieran Histon (Cobh), John Cronin (Lisgoold) and Ciarán Cronin (St Ita’s) are from junior clubs – Cronin in particular was excellent. Finally, a word on Cork minor Ger Millerick who has a bright future ahead of him. The Fr O’Neill’s club man hurled loads of ball around the midfield area.
It was a massively disappointing day for Blackrock. Defeat is always a bitter pill to swallow. You are constantly going back over a narrow loss, you are so agonizingly close. The Rockies set out their team to nullify some of the key Imokilly personnel. To an extent, they achieved that. Imokilly have so many names, it was impossible to keep them all in check.
Big games are decided on small margins. When they look back they will see aspects they could have done better. They needed to put away one or two goal chances. That was the difference. Clearly, it is a learning curve.
No doubt about it though, this team will be back. They are strong and physical and have loads of talent. Sometimes you have to lose one before you win one. They have a Munster club championship to prepare for against the Limerick county champions Na Piarsaigh in two weeks’ time.