CORK hurling is on a roll right now but the intermediates weren’t able to keep the momentum going in Páirc Uí Chaoimh yesterday.
They came up five points short – 2-23 to 2-18 – against Kilkenny in the county’s first All-Ireland final of 2017 at the revamped stadium.
It was disappointing, but it was difficult to argue with the result.
The Cats were that little bit sharper, creating a couple of goal chances that Patrick Collins had to repel in addition to the green flags they raised in a seven-minute scoring spree. In the 43rd minute Cork led 1-15 to 0-15, David Drake’s gem followed by a Sean Hayes free after energetic wing-back Kevin Kavanagh was hauled back.
The next point was Paul Holden’s, after 45 minutes, and Kilkenny, as all their teams are capable of, simply stepped on the gas, hitting 2-4 without reply to lead 2-19 to 1-15.
That was effectively that, though Rob O’Shea did skip clear for a terrific late goal, while Michael Collins – his second – and Will Leahy – his fourth – landed a couple of decent points.
Leahy got one outstanding score over his shoulder on the left wing in the shadow of the magnificent new South Stand and maintained the form he’s been showing for Aghada and Imokilly, especially, this season. Kavanagh was a stand-out at wing-back, while sub Tom Lawrence struck plenty of ball too.
The lively Drake hit a couple of points and had four assists, and Jerry O’Neill struck 1-1, the goal right after the break after good work by Leahy and O’Shea.
The latter duo showed why they were former Cork senior panellists, and on reflection it might have been better to start O’Shea, who was brought on at half-time.
You can be sure though, the preparations for Ronan Dwane and his selectors weren’t ideal.
The status of this All-Ireland title was compromised when a decision was made to introduce an U25 grade as a replacement for intermediate.
Even though that new competition got the go ahead, Cork didn’t enter it.
They then became the de facto intermediate Munster winners when their rivals opted to go with U25s, with Wexford and Kilkenny the only other two teams involved.
Hence yesterday’s All-Ireland final in the Páirc was this Cork team’s only game of the season.
There probably is an argument in favour of the intermediate series as – much like the junior equivalent in football – it provides a showcase for players to progress to the top level, but more importantly an opportunity to pull on Rebel red.
That’s certainly the view of the captain Shane O’Donovan.
“This year was a bad example because there was only one game but I think it gives lads a chance who aren’t making the senior team and a good development in that sense too,” he said.
“The future seems to be the under 25 and maybe that will do as a stepping stone.
“It doesn’t matter what level you’re at it is still great to pull on the jersey. Especially with the opening of the Páirc it was an honour and a privilege to be here today.
We were very disappointed we couldn’t get over the line, Kilkenny pulled away midway through the second half and we couldn’t get it back but I thought there was a bit of spirit shown.
“We’d a few challenge games and a few puck-arounds here and there but it’s hard.
Pulling everyone together with so much going on at club level is difficult.”
O’Donovan has had a busy year and a half in the wake of Mayfield’s county, Munster and junior All-Ireland success, while they’ve been successful in their first two games at intermediate.
“We’ve been flat out with the club but sure you wouldn’t have it any other way. We didn’t have any time to rest after the All-Ireland in February but we’re after getting the first two wins and the draw is coming up and we’re hoping to keep it going.
“We could potentially not be playing for four or five weeks but we’ll be ready.”
The Mayfield captain agreed that – as well his club’s own thrilling exploits of late – the resurgence of Rebel hurling has given Leesiders at all levels a genuine lift.
“The buzz is there. Cork hurling is after getting a nice kick. There was a good support in early for us today and it does push club players on to see the county going well, of course it does, we’re all passionate Cork people.”
They certainly have a stadium to be proud of now. O’Donovan said the overhauled Páirc Uí Chaiomh has a similar feel to Croker, where Mayfield lifted the All-Ireland back in February.
Getting back there for a county final will be a huge incentive in the coming months.
“When you drive in it feels like Croke Park. The surface is unbelievable as well, there’s not much give, bounce wise, but it’s a carpet.
“Any club player is going to want to be in here for a county final. It’s a great stadium, it’s great for Cork people and we’ll all be trying to get back in here again.”An aerial view of Páirc Ui Chaoimh. Picture: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Ed, Darragh, Caoimhe and Eleanor Galvin, supporting Cork against Kilkenny. Picture: David Keane.