THE IDEAL championship game is loaded with incident on the field, a raucous atmosphere off it, some memorable duels and a dramatic finale.
Yet there are days when you can still appreciate a hurling or football game even if the match isn't the helter-skelter encounter expected. No one would have raised an eyebrow if you’d tipped Bishopstown or Imokilly to edge Saturday’s senior hurling opener in Riverstown.
Yet it ended up a 20-point stroll for Imokilly, who opened a gap coming up to the break, and simply smashed through it in the second half. The usual caveats apply after a game that isn’t knockout, but this was a performance that deserved the GAA cliché ‘a statement of intent’.
Bishopstown have less dual players this season, Eddie Murphy back on board as a coach, full commitment from Pa Cronin and Shane O’Neill with their Cork days over, and rattled the Glen in last year’s quarter-final. The likes of Mark Driscoll, Diarmuid Lester, Thomas and Brian Murry and Denis Crowley are quality club performers. You would have said before last weekend the Town were capable of making the semi-finals with a bit of momentum.
Imokilly had a pretty potent squad available but that was the same case in 2016 and they still didn’t make it past the last 16, albeit only after they were caught by a late, late goal against Erin’s Own. In Seamus Harnedy, Paudie O’Sullivan, Brian Lawton, Kieran Histon, Deccie Dalton, John Cronin, Will Leahy and sub Billy Dunne they’ve a nucleus who had hurled at a high level in Rebel red.
Once those lads are fit and anyway focused they’ll rattle most club teams. Chatting to Harnedy afterwards, he agreed that lining out with his division is far less pressurised than hurling for his club or Cork.
Though for a bit of added motivation Harnedy’s father Seán, a Waterford native and serious hurler himself back in his pomp, is a selector alongside Derek Barrett, Jimmy Smiddy, Ciarán Cronin and bainisteoir Fergal Condon. They’d organised a few challenge matches in the build-up to beating Bishopstown and could afford to leave Castlelyons’ Colm Barry, a former Cork minor, and Fr O’Neill’s Dunne, a current Cork U21, in reserve.
Harnedy was in fine form at wing-forward, picking off 0-4 from play and opening up a lot of space across his line for Leahy to have a stormer. The Aghada club man featured in the league for Cork a couple of years ago and his size and skill makes him a handful.
The Bishopstown management faced the classic dilemma as Imokilly started to get a grip approaching half-time, stick or twist. Shane O’Neill was as solid as ever at full-back and Lester was being smartly deployed to neuter Lawton at midfield. Yet the Town were being opened across the 40.
Lester and O’Neill were switched to the half-back division but neither had the same impact in the second period and Imokilly still arrowed over some quality scores. It didn't help Bishopstown that Paudie O’Sullivan was at his mercurial best.
It’s galling really, that even though he’s not 29 until November he’s off the Cork scene and we never got to see him on the big stage at his peak. O’Sullivan might not have the height to pull down high deliveries or the blistering pace to burn away from a defender, but his touch is as sweet as ever.
That counts for a lot, at club level especially. There’s a case he’s the most naturally skilful hurler on Leeside. His trademark flick to control a looping sliotar with one hand on the hurley while fending off the defender with his other lámh worked time and again here.
Whether any of his magic moments will be remembered at the business end of the championship is a moot point. They helped light up what should have been a forgettable SHC opener.
UCC are next up for Imokilly and given the College blitzed Carrigdhoun on Sunday even that won’t be straightforward. Their dominance last weekend might not count for anything yet.
There’s a hell of lot more in Bishopstown and it’ll be interesting to see how they regroup from here. They must wait on the losers of the Ballyhea-Newcestown replay to try and reboot their campaign. Don’t be surprised if they do.