IN YEARS to come, Éire Óg and Mallow will be the answer to a Cork GAA trivia question: Which two teams met in the same championship in different calendar years?
The restructuring of the county championship made for an ultra-competitive senior A football grade, featuring seven of the sides from the 2019 senior championship and five from the premier intermediate level, including champions, Éire Óg, and the side they beat in the final, St Michael’s.
Almost any of the 12 sides could be said to deserve to go up to premier senior, but, of course, there is only room for one and the make-up of the championship meant some of those considered contenders would be eliminated before the knockout stage.
There wasn’t any sense of the reward of an easy draw for Éire Óg after their great PIFC win of 2019, as two of their three immediate predecessors — Mallow and Kiskeam — joined them in Group B, while the fourth side, Bantry Blues, were unlucky to lose to the Ovens club at the semi-final stage.
It was Bantry who provided their first opposition, in Ballingeary, when the championships belatedly began in late July.
Éire Óg got off to a great start, with points from Daniel Goulding, Colm O’Callaghan, and Brian Hurley helping them to a 0-8-to-0-4 half-time lead, but the introduction of Cork star Ruairí Deane — who had been unable to start — gave Bantry a major boost and they were back within two points when Éire Óg goalkeeper, Chris Kelly, made a superb save to deny Stephen Coughlan. Éire Óg made the most of that let-off and Goulding finished with eight points, as they won 0-14 to 0-7.
In the other game, Kiskeam got the better of Mallow, 2-11 to 1-11, in Kanturk. Tom O’Sullivan’s early goal put the Duhallow side in a good position, but by half time Mallow were 1-8 to 1-5 in front, the goal coming from Eoin Kelleher.
Kiskeam dominated the second half, though, and Gene Casey’s goal was central to the revival, while Seán O’Sullivan had four points to his name.
The results in the opening round meant that Mallow were in a do-or-die situation when they came up against Éire Óg, in Mourneabbey, in mid-August.
While the sides were level on four occasions in the first half, Mallow scored five unanswered points in the final five minutes (plus injury time), with Kevin Sheehan, Michael O’Rourke (two), Darragh Moynihan, and Seán McDonald all scoring to leave them 0-9 to 0-4 ahead.
By the time of the second-half water break, Cian O’Riordan, Kieran O’Sullivan, and Sheehan had left it 0-12 to 0-6 in favour of the north Cork side and they were 0-14 to 0-7 in front at the end and back in contention. Kiskeam’s victory over Bantry looked to have all but secured their place in the knockout stages, but Éire Óg still had hope, if they could beat Kiskeam by three points.
Kilshannig was the venue for that game and Kiskeam carried their good form in, initially, as they had the game’s first four points, before Éire Óg came to life. Joe Cooper’s point was followed by a goal from Goulding.
They were 1-6 to 0-7 in front as half time approached and when they won a penalty in injury time, Goulding converted to give them a cushion.
That was bolstered with points from Goulding, O’Callaghan, and Joe Cooper in the second half and it was only at the very death that Kiskeam got a goal (Seán Meehan finishing to the net), but it wasn’t enough for them, as a 2-13-to-1-10 win sent Éire Óg into the quarter-finals, along with Mallow.
They had goals from Cian O’Riordan and Eoin Kelleher as Bantry were beaten 2-11 to 1-10 in Macroom. Three defeats meant that Bantry had to negotiate the relegation play-off, but there they easily saw off St Nicholas.
For Mallow and Éire Óg, the quarter-finals beckoned, with clashes against Bandon and St Michael’s, respectively, on September 20. Though the Lilywhites had the boost of an early goal from Mark Sugrue, in Blarney, O’Riordan netted to put Mallow 1-3 to 1-2 in front.
The to-and-fro nature continued as Sugrue, Barry Collins, and Ronan Crowley pointed for Bandon, but Moynihan ensured Mallow had a 2-7-to-1-8 half-time lead, with a goal, after linking with Seán McDonnell.
With O’Riordan on fire, Mallow had the first four points of the second half to establish real daylight between the teams, but Bandon sub, Philip Crowley, gave them hope when his goal left three points in it, 2-12 to 2-9. While Kieran O’Sullivan replied with a Mallow point, they needed an important save from goalkeeper, Kevin Doyle, to deny Ronan Crowley what would have been a third Bandon goal. O’Riordan and sub, Jack Dillon, had late points for Mallow, as they won 2-16 to 2-10.
A few miles away, in Ballyanly, a close encounter was expected as Éire Óg faced off against St Michael’s in a repeat of the 2019 PIFC final.
Michael’s had impressed in their group, finishing second to O’Donovan Rossa after the pair had a high-scoring shootout in the final match. However, on a superb day for football, there was to be no denying Éire Óg.
However, Colm O’Callaghan’s goal, coming up to half time, gave Éire Óg an interval lead of 1-5 to 0-2, after the sides had been tied at 0-2 each after 12 minutes. Mark O’Keeffe might have actually put Michael’s ahead with a goal, in the 13th minute, but he was denied by a Chris Kelly save, while the netminder denied Eric Hegarty, too.
Early in the second half, Brian Hurley extended the Éire Óg lead and they had a 1-7-to-0-3 advantage at the second-half water break.
Andy O’Connell and Daniel Goulding exchanged scores on the resumption, before Jack Murphy’s ball found Goulding and he cleverly laid off to sub, Kevin Hallissey, whose dinked finish to the net made it 2-8 to 0-4. O’Callaghan’s run set up Hallissey for his second, and Éire Óg’s third, goal, in the 58th minute, and they rounded things off with three more points for Goulding and one by sub, Jerome Kelleher, to win 3-12 to 0-4.
Those wins meant that the pair progressed to take on the sides that had received byes directly to the semi-finals, with Mallow out against Fermoy a week later, while Éire Óg, who were having to combine their quest with hurling exploits, were to take on O’Donovan Rossa.
Playing again in quick succession definitely stood to Mallow and to Cian O’Riordan, in particular, as he kicked four first-half points in Glanworth, with the scoreboard 0-6 to 0-1 in their favour by the time of the water break, with Daniel O’Sullivan impressive, too, while Cork stars, Mattie Taylor and James Loughrey, were very much to the fore.
Fermoy, who had to play without the injured Tomás Clancy, trailed by four at half time, 0-8 to 0-4, and while they fell five points behind after another O’Sullivan score, they refused to give up and goalkeeper, Liam Coleman (45), Pádraig de Róiste, and Ruairí O’Hagan were all on target as they came within two points and the game moved into added time. Mallow weren’t to be denied, though, and Ryan Harkin’s pointed 45 was the final action in a 0-12-to-0-9 win.
Clonakilty was the setting a week later, as Éire Óg took on O’Donovan Rossa for the other place in the final. The Skibbereen side had been unlucky to just miss out on a place in premier senior — ranked 13 with 12 in the top tier — but they had looked very strong as they amassed the best record in the group stages.
Éire Óg had the wind in the opening half, but couldn’t make full use of it, and Kelly was forced to make a great save to deny Skibb’s Thomas Hegarty an early goal. After Kevin Davis put Skibb 0-2 to 0-0 ahead, Éire Óg finally got going as Goulding and Eoin O’Shea levelled.
Though David Shannon restored Skibb’s lead, O’Callaghan had a brace of points for Éire Óg and Goulding had left it 0-5 to 0-3 by the water break, a lead that had expanded slightly to 0-7 to 0-4 by half time.
On the restart, O’Donovan Rossa enjoyed a purple patch as Dylan Hourihan scored a lovely point and then Dónal Óg Hodnett burst through for a brilliant goal to make it 1-5 to 0-7.
Éire Óg didn’t panic, though, and they were back level when sub, Dylan Foley, netted just before the second-half water break. While Dylan Hourihan cut the lead to a single point, Goulding gave Éire Óg some breathing space, before O’Callaghan fired home the clinching goal for a 2-10-to-1-8 victory.
It meant a rematch with Mallow, but the red-and-yellow encounter will have to wait until the spring.