The key to Imokilly's county success was to become more like a club

The key to Imokilly's county success was to become more like a club
Imokilly manager Fergal Condon. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane

IT’S one month since the dust has settled on the surface of Páirc Uí Chaoimh and Imokilly county triumph.

Senior hurling manager Fergal Condon, known better as Rasper in East Cork GAA circles, has had time to think about the achievement of bridging a 19-year gap and securing the Seán Óg Murphy Cup for just the third time.

We caught up with the Aghada native in Rostellan this week to reflect on what a wonderful year it was for the divisional side. There’s an immense sense of satisfaction at this point for Condon, who after three seasons at the helm of East Cork hurling guided his beloved division win the biggest prize of all in Cork County hurling.

“I am here three years now I took over in March 2015 and immediately I saw the potential of the team.

“We narrowly lost out in the quarter-final that year to Sarsfields by four points, but we had seven U21s playing that day.

“We could plan for the future to develop the side and also build on the return of some players from their colleges.

“In 2016 we beat UCC, lost to Douglas, beat Killeagh, but then lost out in a cracker to Erin’s Own, but we still felt we were on the right track for the future,” said Condon.

Preparations for the 2017 championship campaign was stopped by the weather conditions in November, but Condon and his selectors, Derek Barrett, Jimmy Smiddy, Ciaran Cronin and Sean Harnedy got together pre-Christmas to see how they could steer the Imokilly team forward.

“We knew we wouldn’t be far off the mark and we would be there or thereabouts and we knew that we had to fix some things going forward and make the necessary changes to help the team to improve. We managed to get in five challenge games in before the first game against Bishopstown on the 6th of May. When we walked out on to the pitch at Riverstown we were ready and we performed excellently on the day winning comfortably.

“We really played well and the pre-championship games really stood to us.”

Next up were UCC on the fourth of June and again we played very well that night. UCC had quality players, but we knew we had class too from one to 30.

“We wanted to instil a winning habit immediately into the minds of the players and they bought into that right away.

“With players outside the panel trying to play their way on to the squad and the competition for places within the squad were fiercely fought for, we knew we were in the right place and the win. That night was an important one for us.”

Condon is a true Gael and his passion for East Cork hurling is second to none. Married to Bridget for 17 years, with two children Sinead and Tomás, already a hurling fanatic, based in Saleen you can tell that East Cork hurling is his passion and his life.

That came across to his players who at this stage had built up a strong bond and trust.

“Imokilly had begun to become a club. The lads gave everything for the side just like they would in their own clubs and there were great friendships between everyone on and off the field and that is rare to find.

“We travelled to Páirc Uí Rinn to play Erin’s Own in the quarter-final we knew what we were going to face that night. We were very lucky that night to come away with the draw, to be honest Declan Dalton saved us that night and he didn’t even know it when he struck the ball over the bar to level the game.

“Now he thought we were two points behind and when the ball narrowly went over the bar he was heartbroken until someone told him the outcome. In the replay, we wanted to take a big scalp in Erin’s Own and we performed brilliant hurling to make it through to the semi-final.”

They did so by the narrowest of margins, thanks of a super Paudie O’Sullivan score. A high-profile semi-final against slight favourites Sars was next. At the revamped Páirc.

“In my previous two years as manager, we had been knocked out by Erin’s Own and Sars and we really wanted to win the game to banish those two ghosts.

“We told Seamie (Harnedy) that he would climb those stairs at Páirc Uí Chaoimh and lift that cup prior to the throw-in and this would not be our last time in the new stadium.

“Sars were a young, but very talented side and pushed us to the pin of our collar, but we got the draw and were fantastic in the semi-final replay to win it by seven points to get to the final.”

Even though Imokilly were through to play Blackrock in the final, people were concerned about Condon’s side capacity to leak goals, 16 in the championship.

It was a criticism that Condon cleverly turned to his side’s advantage.

“I asked the lads ahead of the final what would happen if we didn’t concede a goal and we all agreed we couldn’t be beaten. That day our defenders stood tall and no goal was conceded and as usual our forwards were excellent.

“I remember the final whistle going and the sheer elation of winning such a phenomenal prize, the senior hurling championship of Cork. I know that all the management including myself and the backroom staff would all like to go again next year and see if we can do it again, what an honour that would be.”

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