Cork GAA season in review: Imokilly sides jostle for new hurling title

Denis Hurley on how the battle for the new lower intermediate championship title played out
Cork GAA season in review: Imokilly sides jostle for new hurling title

Russell Rovers' Kieran Walsh racing onto the ball from Milford's Dylan Hayes-Daly during the Co-Op Superstores Cork Lower IHC at Fermoy. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

WITH 60 Cork clubs operating at intermediate or senior level, the decision was taken to inaugurate a new, temporary grade when the county championships were revamped for the 2020 season.

As well as premier senior, senior A, premier intermediate and intermediate A, a lower intermediate championship was set up, featuring 11 sides that had previously been intermediate and 2019 junior A champions Russell Rovers.

However, it was a grade with inbuilt pressure and teams would only have two chances to progress to intermediate A – at the end of 2021, every side bar the champions, even the beaten finalists, would have to decamp back to the junior ranks.

With some momentum behind them, Rovers were immediately bracketed among the favourites, along with Kilbrittain – with whom they were drawn in the same group – fellow East Cork sides Castlemartyr and St Catherine’s and Tracton.

So many teams with aspirations, but only room for one to succeed in 2020. That was the plan anyway, but as things transpired, it will be early 2021 before a champion is declared.

Ballygarvan's Ray O'Halloran going high for the ball against Russell Rovers' Kevin O'Brien in the Co-op Superstores Cork LIHC at Riverstown. Picture: Denis Minihane.
Ballygarvan's Ray O'Halloran going high for the ball against Russell Rovers' Kevin O'Brien in the Co-op Superstores Cork LIHC at Riverstown. Picture: Denis Minihane.

Milford were another team jostling for contention and they had a great start on the August bank holiday weekend, beating Ballymartle by 0-22 to 1-8 in Group B, while Castlemartyr overcame St Finbarr’s by 3-13 to 2-13 in Riverstown. Niall Madden, Barry Lawton and Eoghan Martin got the goals for the East Cork side, who led by 2-10 to 2-5 at half-time.

In group A, Kilbrittain and Barryroe played out a 0-12 draw and the other game in what was expected to be a close group was also tied, with Russell Rovers and Ballygarvan each taking a point, 1-14 to 0-17 the score.

A week later, the meeting of Milford and Castlemartyr in Mourneabbey had a place in the knockout stages on offer for the winners and Castlemartyr seized that as they earned a 1-22 to 3-14 win.

While Milford led early in the first half, Castlemartyr had managed to get on top to lead by 1-14 to 2-9 by halftime, Jack McGann with their goal while their North Cork opponents had green flags from Anthony Watson. With Daragh Moran and Ciarán Joyce imperious in defence and Brian Lawton outstanding in midfield, Castlemartyr pushed on with Barry Lawton on song from frees and man of the match Mike Kelly finishing with six points from play.

Group A remained finely poised after another draw. In Carrigaline, Russell Rovers had a great start as Brian Hartnett’s goal put them four points up on Kilbrittain and Luke Duggan Murray and Jack McGrath opened up a six-point lead before Philip Wall pulled a goal back for the West Cork side.

By half-time, it was 1-9 to 1-7 for Rovers, but Kilbrittain stayed in touch in the second half and took the lead again when Morgan Madden’s goal put them 2-11 to 1-13 in front. They pushed on to lead by three after a Maurice Sexton free but Rovers came back and secured a draw when Hartnett equalised at the death.

The result allowed Ballygarvan to move into top side after they beat Barryroe by 1-15 to 2-10 in Ballinspittle. In Group C, St Catherine’s guaranteed themselves top spot after they made it two wins from two with a 1-15 to 0-11 win over Grenagh in Rathcormac.

In the final round of games, Castlemartyr secured top seeding and a place in the semi-finals after they saw off Ballymartle – who would go on to lose the relegation play-off to Barryroe.

Castlemartyr's Michael Kelly gets the ball away from Kilbrittain's James Hurley during the Co-Op Superstores Cork LIHC at Páirc Uí Rinn. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Castlemartyr's Michael Kelly gets the ball away from Kilbrittain's James Hurley during the Co-Op Superstores Cork LIHC at Páirc Uí Rinn. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

The final score at Rostellan was 5-28 to 0-7 and Castlemartyr, who led by 3-13 to 0-4 at half-time, had a hat-trick of goals from Jack McGann while Mike Kelly scored 1-9 with Brian Lawton accounting for 1-3. St Catherine’s also progressed to the semi-finals as they made it a 100 percent record in Group C by beating Dripsey by 1-17 to 1-12 at Watergrasshill.

In Group A, Russell Rovers took first place in emphatic fashion as they beat Barryroe by 8-18 to 1-12 in Passage. The Shanagarry/Ballycotton side had goals from two goals each from Chris Ruddy, Josh Beausang and Brian Hartnett, with Jack McGrath and Luke Duggan Murray also netting.

That 27-point win meant Rovers took top spot ahead of Kilbrittain, who finished level with them on four points after beating Ballygarvan by 0-22 to 0-10, with Maurice Sexton scoring 12 points.

For Kilbrittain, that meant a quarter-final clash with Tracton and they produced a strong second half in Brinny to win by 1-16 to 0-8. Their fellow black-and-amber side Russell Rovers also advanced as Brian Hartnett scored 2-1 and Josh Beausang scored ten points.

Grenagh's Paul Barry-Murphy and Tracton's John Good going high for the ball in the Co-op Superstores Cork LIHC at Ballincollig. Picture: Denis Minihane.
Grenagh's Paul Barry-Murphy and Tracton's John Good going high for the ball in the Co-op Superstores Cork LIHC at Ballincollig. Picture: Denis Minihane.

The semi-final draw therefore had an all-East Cork semi-final between Russell Rovers and St Catherine’s while Kilbrittain had to do battle with Castlemartyr.

The Imokilly derby was first up on September 26 in Killeagh. Matt and Brian Mulcahy had early points for Catherine’s, who had the wind, and, while a Hartnett goal put Rovers in front, it was to be the only time in the first half that they led.

With Shane O’Brien’s shooting sights in, St Catherine’s pushed 0-7 to 1-0 in front by the 16th minute and it was 0-9 to 1-2 at half-time.

With the wind behind them in the second half, Rovers edged closer, point by point, with Beausang showing great accuracy from dead balls. They moved ahead thanks to a 65 by him in the 50th minute but Catherine’s wouldn’t die easily and extra time was a live possibility until points in injury time by Beausang (three) and Jack McGrath sent Rovers into the final on a 1-15 to 0-13 scoreline.

Russell Rovers' Jack McGrath goes high for the sliotar against Milford in the Co-Op Superstores Cork Lower IHC at Fermoy
Russell Rovers' Jack McGrath goes high for the sliotar against Milford in the Co-Op Superstores Cork Lower IHC at Fermoy

The following day, Castlemartyr ensured that the final would also be an East Cork affair as they bested Kilbrittain.

A good start was important for the victors, who had six unanswered points after 15 minutes with Niall Madden scoring three of those. However, after Paudie Brennan opened Kilbrittain’s account, they came strongly back into it and only trailed by two points, 0-9 to 0-7, at half-time.

Immediately after the restart, Michael Kelly extended the lead to three and then doubled it as he struck for what proved to be the game’s only goal.

While Maurice Sexton, Ross Cashman and Declan Harrington had points as Kilbrittain looked to come back into it, points from Barry Lawton were key in ensuring Castlemartyr had breathing space while his brother Brian, Ciarán Joyce and Darragh Moran did much to ensure they were in front by the end, 1-13 to 0-13.

Two Imokilly sides still standing as 2020 turns to 2021 – who will prevail?

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