Cork GAA season in review: Charleville came out on top after brilliant final

The inaugural Senior A Hurling Championship didn't disappoint
Cork GAA season in review: Charleville came out on top after brilliant final

Alan Dennehy, Charleville coming away with this breaking ball from Jason Hankard, Fr O’Neill’s, in the SAHC final in the Páirc. Picture Dan Linehan

IN 2018, Charleville completed a fairytale journey that had seen them win the county junior A, intermediate and premier intermediate hurling titles in the space of eight years.

Senior hurling beckoned but, unfortunately for the North Cork side, the impending changes to the championship structures meant that securing a spot in the new 12-team premier senior grade was a tall order as, without the requisite ranking points, they would have to reach the quarter-finals.

While they did beat Erin’s Own in their first game up, they drew the short straw of Glen Rovers in the third round and were desperately unlucky to lose out after extra-time against the side that would go on to reach the final.

It meant a place in senior A, along with a host of other sides that had previously been senior, as well as the teams that had been at the forefront of the ever-competitive premier intermediate grade.

While coach Ben O’Connor had departed, Claude Gough’s side still had a lot of talent but that would have to be illustrated in a potentially tricky group that also included Bandon, Fermoy and Mallow.

Charleville's Darragh Fitzgibbon strikes over a point. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Charleville's Darragh Fitzgibbon strikes over a point. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Mourneabbey was the venue for their opening game against Bandon when the championship finally commenced on the first weekend of August.

The Lilywhites were another team down from senior but there was no doubting Charleville’s superiority, especially in the second half. Darragh Fitzgibbon’s accuracy was key as they got the game’s first five points but Bandon battled back well through Ronan Crowley and Mark Sugrue and it was 0-11 to 0-9 for Charleville at half-time.

The outcome was decided in the third quarter, though, as two goals in the space of three minutes, from Darren Casey and Jack Doyle, gave Charleville a lead that was never going to be relinquished. Near the end, Doyle grabbed his second and Charleville’s third goal and a 3-21 to 0-17 victory put them in a great position at the top of the group, with Fermoy edging Mallow in the other game.

There was a quick turnaround as the second round of games took place the following week, with the Kilbrin the setting for the meeting of Charleville and Mallow.

Charleville's Jack Barry clears from Mallow's Cormac Murphy. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Charleville's Jack Barry clears from Mallow's Cormac Murphy. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Charleville knew that another win would effectively guarantee them a knockout spot, but Mallow needed a win to stay alive and that desperation was a factor in them leading by two points at half-time.

Charleville had led by 0-6 to 0-3 but Mallow came back strongly with points from Fionn O’Neill, Paul Lyons, Kevin Sheehan and Aaron Sheehan as they went in with an 0-11 to 0-9 advantage.

Ten minutes into the second half, Mallow were still ahead, 0-15 to 0-12, but Charleville responded as Fitzgibbon’s frees were allied to points from Danny O’Flynn, Gavin Kelleher, Jack Doyle and Andrew Cagney.

They were four ahead when Mallow won a penalty but goalkeeper Cian Collins saved from Cormac Murphy. Mallow did get a goal through Charlie Carroll at the death but Charleville were six ahead by that stage and a 0-22 to 1-16 win all but sent them through.

While there was a slim chance that a heavy defeat to Fermoy in the final game in Kildorrery would eliminate Charleville if Bandon triumphed against Mallow in the other game, there was never any fear of them failing to complete the job.

Mallow's Trevor Doyle trying to block down a shot by Bandon's Mike Cahalane in the Co-op Superstores Cork SAHC at Coachford. Picture: Denis Minihane.
Mallow's Trevor Doyle trying to block down a shot by Bandon's Mike Cahalane in the Co-op Superstores Cork SAHC at Coachford. Picture: Denis Minihane.

Top spot was secured with a 3-21 to 0-15 win, with Darren Casey’s early goal setting them on their way.

It was 1-11 to 0-7 at half-time and Fitzgibbon, who went on to finish with 1-11, grabbed a second goal in the 41st minute while Gavin Kelleher got the third goal as they finished with nine different scorers and a scoring difference of 31 points.

That was good enough for the second seeding and a bye directly to the semi-finals. It meant that they – and 2019 PIHC champions Fr O’Neills, who took the top ranking – could relax and gear up for the last four while the rest of the field whittled itself down.

The two quarter-finals saw Kanturk overcome Bandon to set up a meeting with Charleville while Newcestown got the better of Bride Rovers and advance to play Fr O’Neills, with Killeagh scraping past Kilworth in the relegation play-off.

On Saturday, September 26 in Malllow, Charleville conceded five of the first six points but then struck six in a row before the water-break and had moved 0-10 to 0-8 when Aidan Walsh’s goal for Kanturk four minutes before half-time turned the game again. It was 1-9 to 0-11 for Kanturk at half-time, but as they had done in the group stages, Charleville made an impact in the third quarter.

Jack O’Brien, Fitzgibbon, Daniel O’Flynn and Jack O’Callaghan all scored as they moved five points ahead but Kanturk got back into it as goalkeeper Anthony Nash converted a penalty. Charleville kept their opponents at arm’s length but a third Kanturk goal, from Ian Walsh, cut the lead to just a point, 0-25 to 3-15.

If Charleville felt pressure, they didn’t show it as Cagney scored a relieving goal and then added another to make sure of the win, 2-26 to 3-17.

The following day, Fr O’Neills ensured that the final would be a meeting of the two most recent premier intermediate champions as an early goal blitz from Declan Dalton, Rob Cullinane and Dalton again put them in a commanding position against Newcestown. The final score was 4-13 to 1-13 in favour of the Ballymacoda/Ladysbridge side, with Liam O’Driscoll getting the fourth goal in the second half.

The newly-minted Jim Forbes Cup was contested at Páirc Uí Chaoimh early on Sunday, October 4, prior to the premier senior final that afternoon. It was certainly the toughest challenge Charleville had faced all year but, like all the rest of them, they came through it.

O’Neills had the wind and took full advantage as they roared into a 1-5 to 0-0 lead, Dalton scoring a goal from a penalty while O’Driscoll had three points. A Darragh Fitzgibbon free finally opened the Charleville account in the 13th minute but by half-time the upper hand was still with Fr O’Neills, who led by 1-11 to 0-5.

 Michael O’Flynn, Charleville, looking to block the breaking Liam O’Driscoll,   Fr O’Neill’s. Picture Dan Linehan
Michael O’Flynn, Charleville, looking to block the breaking Liam O’Driscoll,   Fr O’Neill’s. Picture Dan Linehan

While the elements can never be relied upon, Charleville made sure that they were a help rather than a hindrance as they set about eating into the nine-point deficit, with Fitzgibbon’s goal helping to bring them to within one, 1-12 to 1-11.

O’Neills responded with a Billy Dunne goal and, after three Fitzgibbon frees made it a one-point game again, the East Cork side repeated the trick as Jason Hankard netted.

That left it 3-12 to 1-14 at the second-half water-break but Charleville didn’t let up. Subs James O’Brien (two) and Tim Hawe had points before Fitzgibbon levelled and when Gavin Kelleher fired over with five minutes left, Charleville were in front for the first time in the match.

Dalton levelled but Charleville had the momentum and looked to be safe as Fitzgibbon, O’Flynn, Andrew Cagney and Hawe all pointed.

There was time for one last twist as Dunne struck for a fourth O’Neills goal but Charleville were not to be denied on a scoreline of 1-23 to 4-13.

 The Charleville bench and selectors celebrate after. Picture: Dan Linehan
The Charleville bench and selectors celebrate after. Picture: Dan Linehan

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