WHILE defeat in a final can be a blow for a club, at the same time it can provide a spur to take that next step.
In 2016, Rockchapel made it to the Cork IFC final, losing out to Bandon. A year later, Mitchelstown were the unfortunate side defeated in the decider as they fell to Kanturk. In the spring of 2021, one of those two clubs will get to atone for their disappointment.
The 2020 county intermediate A football was unique in that it featured 16 clubs, meaning a straightforward system of four groups of four and two to advance from each to the quarter-final stage. While the grade is to be reduced to 12 sides by 2022, there was at least some breathing space in that only one relegation was slated for 2020, with five teams to go down next year.
Despite being recent finalists, neither Mitchelstown nor Rockchapel had even made the quarter-finals in 2019, but that was perhaps a reflection on the equitable nature of the competition, with any club capable of emerging from the pack to pick up the silverware.
For Rockchapel, that included Group B rivals and fellow Duhallow sides Dromtarriffe and Ballydesmond as well as Kinsale. An intra-divisional clash with Dromtarriffe in Kiskeam was their opening assignment and it was hardly surprising that two evenly-matched teams should play out a draw at the end of July.
Dromtarriffe began better but were wasteful in front of goal and a converted penalty from Jack Curtin sent Rockchapel in level, 1-3 to 0-6. On the restart, Rockchapel got on top through Niall O’Callaghan, Moss O’Keeffe and John Walsh and, when Curtin netted a second penalty, they were 2-6 to 0-6 in front. Dromtarriffe didn’t give in, however, and a late point from Evan Murphy secured the draw for them, 2-8 to 0-14 the final score.
It wasn’t a bad result but it meant that Rockchapel’s margin for error was reduced as they faced Kinsale – who had beaten Ballydesmond – in their second game in Donoughmore three weeks later. They began like they meant business as Jack Curtin, Mikey McAuliffe, Séamus Hickey, William Murphy and James Forrest all scored as they moved into a 0-7 to 0-0 lead and they never ceded the initiative.
While Kinsale got back into the game as they trailed by 0-8 to 0-4 at half-time, Rockchapel increased their advantage after half-time and a goal from McAuliffe put the issue beyond doubt before Kinsale consolation goal from David Coughlan. The final score was 1-17 to 1-8, meaning that Rockchapel knew a victory over Ballydesmond in their last game would send them through as group winners.
Ballydesmond had suffered a second loss against Dromtarriffe but were not fully eliminated. There was never any fear of Rockchapel taking them for granted, though, and back in Kiskeam they diligently applied themselves again – getting the first seven points, as they had against Kinsale. Eamon and Daniel O’Callaghan shone in defence, while Conor Keppel and Séamus Hickey dominated at midfield, giving them a strong attacking platform.
While Ballydesmond did belatedly get going, Rockchapel finished the half well with points from Nicholas Lenihan, Liam Collins and James Forrest to lead by 0-12 to 0-4 at half-time. In the second half, Ballydesmond came back well with Seán Murphy and Jerry Healy impressing, while Rockchapel picked up black cards that stymied them. However, a big John Forrest point gave them some breathing space to make it 0-16 to 0-12. They would take the win, but not before a late, late Donncha O’Connor goal from a penalty for Ballydesmond, which ultimately meant that they avoided the relegation play-off.
In Group C, Mitchelstown were making waves as Adrigole, Glanworth and Mayfield were all seen off. First up for them was a local derby against Glanworth in Mallow and they served notice that the disappointing 2019 season, in which they had flirted with relegation, was an aberration that they were keen to forget.
While points from Shane O’Riordan and Shane Condon had Glanworth off to a good start, Mitchelstown came back strongly and Stephen O’Sullivan’s goal helped them into the lead while Cork starlet Cathail O’Mahony was proving a major threat in attack. By half-time, they were 10 points ahead, with Shane Cahill having scored a second goal, and it finished 2-14 to 1-9, Diarmuid Colfer with the late Glanworth goal.
Next up for Mitchelstown was a meeting with Adrigole, who had beaten Mayfield, meaning that the winners were all but guaranteed a quarter-final spot. While the opening quarter of the game in Carrigadrohid saw the North Cork side leading by 0-3 to 0-2, they seized a firm grip from there to half-time, scoring an unanswered 3-4 with goals from O’Sullivan (two) and O’Mahony. Such an advantage was never likely to be overhauled in the second half and O’Mahony got his second goal soon after the restart. It finished 4-12 to 1-8, the Adrigole goal scored by Kevin Goggin.
With Glanworth beating Mayfield, Mitchelstown were confirmed as group winners even before the clash with Mayfield, who were seeking to avoid the relegation play-off, but the formlines held true as they won by 0-17 to 2-3. Maurice Barry’s early goal put the city side into the lead but by half-time Mitchelstown were 0-8 to 1-2 ahead as Pa Magee, James Sheehan and O’Mahony all kicked points.
They were 0-17 to 1-2 in front by the closing stages and though David O’Neill fired a late Mayfield goal, it wasn’t enough to prevent them having to play in the play-off, against Glanmire, who won by 0-14 to 1-5 to preserve their intermediate status and send their neighbours down to the junior ranks.
Rockchapel and Mitchelstown marched on, to quarter-final clashes against Ballinora and Kinsale respectively. Mallow was the venue on September 19 as Rockchapel looked to pick up where they had left off in the group stage. They got on top early through Jack Curtin and Séamus Hickey but Dara Corkery’s goal for Ballinora meant the teams were level at the water-break, 1-2 to 0-5. By half-time, Hickey’s goal had helped Rockchapel to a 1-9 to 1-5 lead and Curtin netted soon after the resumption and they held the advantage from there to the end, winning by 2-14 to 1-11.
In Carrigtwohill, Mitchelstown locked horns with Kinsale and immediately got down to business, with Seán O’Sullivan again finding the net as they established a 1-5 to 0-0 lead by the seventh minute. At half-time, it was 1-15 to 0-4, O’Mahony once again with his sights in. Kinsale had two second-half goals, Gearóid Finn with a penalty and Timmy Broderick getting the other, but Mitchelstown cruised into the semi-finals on a 3-20 to 2-10 scoreline as sub Aaron O’Brien scored two late goals.
For Rockchapel, the semi-finals pitted them against Glanworth in Dromina and they maintained their momentum with Hickey against a force at midfield while William Murphy was excellent at centre-forward. Cormac Curtin’s 23rd-minute put them 0-6 to 0-2 ahead and it was 0-8 to 0-4 by half-time, with points from Pádraig Hannon and Shane O’Riordan bringing Glanworth back into it.
Two Shane O’Riordan points brought Glanworth closer coming up to the second-half water-break but Rockchapel had an emphatic response as Murphy set up Jack Curtin for a goal. They were eight in front before Stephen Condon plundered a late goal for Glanworth but sub Jason O’Callaghan’s late point ensured a place in the final on a 1-13 to 1-7 scoreline.
For Mitchelstown, it was back to Mallow, with Aghabullogue – also going well in the IAHC – their opponents. Against the wind in the opening half, Mitchelstown played smartly as points from O’Mahony and Shane Cahill put them into a three-point lead by the 15th minute, with Aghabullogue’s poor shooting letting them down.
They did eventually get off the mark through Matthew Bradley and Luke Casey but Mitchelstown held a 0-6 to 0-3 half-time lead and made a decisive push in the third quarter, through O’Mahony. Seven minutes into the second half, James Sheehan and Michael Walsh set him up for a goal to make it 1-9 to 0-4 and, though Casey had two Aghabullogue frees in the wake of that, the inter-county player’s second goal made it 2-9 to 0-6.
Mitchelstown were not going to be denied after that, O’Mahony finishing with 2-5 as a 2-13 to 0-7 win earned their passage to the final.