Cork GAA season in review: Duhallow duo dug deep to reach PIFC final

Kanturk and Knocknagree will clash in the new year
Cork GAA season in review: Duhallow duo dug deep to reach PIFC final

Lorcán McLoughlin, Kanturk, kicks into the forward line against Aghada. Picture: Larry Cummins.

THE county premier intermediate football championship was always regarded as a competitive grade, with almost any of the teams in it capable of going all the way to victory.

If anything, the compaction into a 12-team competition only highlighted the even nature. While the champions won’t be known until the spring of 2021, the identity of the finalists — Duhallow pair Kanturk and Knocknagree — backs up that view, as neither side went unbeaten in the group stages.

Ultimately, though, they picked up form when required and saw off higher-ranked clubs in the semi-finals to set up a local derby meeting in the decider.

For Kanturk, on top of the challenge of combining dual challenges, there was a difficult draw in Group 3, featuring Nemo Rangers’ second team, Macroom and Gabriel Rangers, who were beaten by Knocknagree in the 2019 IFC final.

First up for them was Macroom in Cullen on July 25, and while they kicked the game’s first five points, they had fallen behind by 1-7 to 0-7 by half-time, Dylan Twomey with the Macroom goal as they made the most of the wind behind them.

Lorcan O’Neill’s goal for Kanturk on the resumption helped them into the lead, but Macroom stayed with them and Twomey put the Muskerry side 1-10 to 1-9 in front in the final quarter, with Kanturk’s cause not helped by losing Ian Walsh — on top of Aidan Walsh, Ryan Walsh, and Daniel O’Connell, who couldn’t start the game.

However, Cian Clernon levelled for them as the end neared and then in injury-time, sub Alan Walsh got the winning score to get their campaign off to a great start.

After two rounds of hurling, their next football assignment was Nemo Rangers, who had enjoyed a fine win over Gabriel Rangers in their first game.

With injuries still affecting Kanturk, they endured a tough start as they fell 11 points behind in Glantane and that ultimately proved to be the winning of the game for the city side.

Ciarán Dalton and Eric Dilloughrey both found the net for Nemo inside the opening eight minutes and when Ronan Dalton waved another green flag on 20, it was 3-3 to 0-1. In the second quarter, Kanturk did improve with points from Kyrle Holland, Ian Walsh, and Lorcán McLoughlin, but the half-time deficit was still substantial, 3-5 to 0-8.

When Adrian Greaney got another goal for Nemo soon after the restart, that looked to be that, but Kanturk dug in and reduced the margin, point by point, with Mark Healy, Liam O’Keeffe and Alan Walsh all on target. Unfortunately for them, they couldn’t find a goal and Nemo held on to win by 4-8 to 0-17.

With Macroom beating Gabriels, it left things finely posed ahead of the final round of group games, in which Kanturk were due to meet the Ballydehob/Schull club in Ballingeary. For the Duhallow outfit, a win was essential, but there was a chance that they could be eliminated on scoring difference.

Once Kyrle Holland got the opening Kanturk goal in the 10th minute to put them 1-2 to 0-2 ahead they were on top, the lead buttressed as Liam O’Keeffe found the net soon after.

Alan Walsh got a third goal to give them a 3-7 to 0-5 half-time lead, but Gabriels, seeking to avoid the relegation play-off, wouldn’t lie down. Even though Holland got his second and Kanturk’s fourth goal late on, Mark Cronin, Keith O’Driscoll and Ger O’Callaghan had scores for the West Cork men, leaving it 4-14 to 0-16 at the end.

That left them with a scoring difference of eight points and a second-placed finish behind Nemo, who finished strongly to lose by just two points to Macroom, who were eliminated.

In Group 2, Knocknagree — junior champions in 2017 and winners of the intermediate in 2019 — experienced mixed fortunes. Starting off against St Vincent’s, they conceded an early goal to Anthony O’Callaghan, but regrouped to lead by 0-8 to 1-2 at half-time, with scores from John Fintan Daly and Denis O’Connor.

Knocknagree manager John Fintan Daly. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Knocknagree manager John Fintan Daly. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

However, father-and-son duo John Paul and Blake Murphy brought Vincent’s level in the second half and it wasn’t until a goal from Gearóid Looney with 10 minutes left that Knocknagree pulled clear, going on to win by 1-13 to 1-7.

Three weeks later, Banteer was the venue for a clash with Naomh Abán, who had been beaten by Cill na Martra first time out and needed to take something from the game to keep their hopes alive.

Denis and Fintan O’Connor had points as Knocknagree led by 0-5 to 0-2 by the first-half water-break, but their Baile Bhúirne opponents responded through Aodhán Ó Luasa and Diarmuid Ó Ceallaigh and they had an 0-8 to 0-6 lead by half-time.

With Ó Luasa and Deaglán Ó hAileamhain on song and Micheál Ó Duinnín making an impact from the bench, the Gaeltacht side took a firm grip to move 0-13 to 0-6 clear by the midway point in the second half.

Knocknagree were not for giving in though and Eoghan McSweeney had a point before three in a row from Fintan O’Connor and goalkeeper Patrick Doyle landed a 45. Looney cut the lead to a single point before O’Connor got his seventh point to level and Matthew Dilworth looked to have won it for Knocknagree.

There was still room for one more twist though and Ó Ceallaigh sent over a levelling free to leave it 0-14 each at the end.

Cill Na Martra's Dan Ó Duinnín takes on Knocknagree's Gary O'Connor. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Cill Na Martra's Dan Ó Duinnín takes on Knocknagree's Gary O'Connor. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Their fate would be decided in the final group game against Cill na Martra at Mourneabbey in early September. With the Muskerry side already qualified, Knocknagree had to work on the basis that Naomh Abán would beat the eliminated St Vincent’s.

That meant taking something from the game or at least limiting the damage to their scoring difference, but things went badly wrong as Cill na Martra won by 7-11 to 0-13, the goals coming from Daniel Ó Duinnín, Damien Ó hUrdáil (two each), Ciarán Ó Duinnín, Shane Ó Duinnín and Gearóid Ó Goillidhe.

The result sent Cill na Martra straight through to the semi-finals and looked to have knocked out Knocknagree, but then the news came through from Cloughduv that Vincent’s had pulled off a shock victory over Naomh Abán.

Knocknagree finished in second place, meaning that they would take on Nemo Rangers in the quarter-finals a fortnight later. For Gabriel Rangers and Na Piarsaigh, the relegation play-off loomed, with the city side winning by 0-13 to 0-7.

By the time quarter-finals came around, Kanturk had already booked their place in the senior A hurling semis with a win over Bandon and, while all but three of their footballers played hurling — with quite a few on the Duhallow panel too — there were no ill-effects as they proved superior to Aghada, winning by 0-17 to 0-8 in Ovens. Cian Clernon and Paul Walsh impressed as Kanturk led by 0-8 to 0-4 at half-time and they were nine clear by the second-half water-break, with Kyrle Holland’s dead-ball accuracy of the highest order. The same gap pertained at the end, setting them up for a semi-final clash with Cill na Martra.

 Ian Walsh, Kanturk, shields the ball from Aghada full-back Ed Leahy. Picture: Larry Cummins.
Ian Walsh, Kanturk, shields the ball from Aghada full-back Ed Leahy. Picture: Larry Cummins.

After the Cill na Martra setback, Knocknagree adopted a more defensive set-up against Nemo in Donoughmore.

However, despite getting the first score through John Fintan Daly, they were 0-7 to 0-3 down by half-time with Eric Dilloughrey and Adrian Greaney finding their range for Nemo, though Fintan O’Connor had twice gone close to goals for Knocknagree.

The scoreline was 0-10 to 0-7 in Nemo’s favour at the second-half water-break, but a more adventurous approach from Knocknagree paid dividends in the final quarter. Points from Fintan O’Connor (two) and Dilworth had them level and a superb move involving Eoghan McSweeney, Daniel O’Mahony and O’Connor ended with Dilworth netting.

While Nemo responded with points from Colm Kiely and Adrian Greaney to cut the gap to one, they couldn’t find an equaliser and Knocknagree advanced with a 1-10 to 0-12 victory.

Knocknagree's Denis O'Connor in a tussle for the ball with Newmarket's Paudie Allen. Picture: Denis Minihane.
Knocknagree's Denis O'Connor in a tussle for the ball with Newmarket's Paudie Allen. Picture: Denis Minihane.

They were out again a week later, in Kiskeam against fellow Duhallow side Newmarket, managed by former Cork ladies’ footballer Deirdre O’Reilly, who had excelled in the group phase.

Despite not having played since then, they settled well and took an early 0-6 to 0-2 lead before McSweeney, Daly and Fintan O’Connor all scored as Knocknagree took the lead.

Conor O’Keeffe’s point for Newmarket meant it was 0-7 each at half-time, but Knocknagree had the better start to the second half through Gearóid Looney and Matthew Dilworth.

Coming up to the water-break, McSweeney added two points to give Knocknagree a 0-13 to 0-9 lead and it was 0-15 to 0-10 following another fine point from the Cork player in the 47th minute.

Darren O’Keeffe and Tony O’Keeffe had points for Newmarket to leave a goal in it and that almost came as Aidan Browne rifled a shot off the crossbar. Browne and O’Keeffe added further points to make it 0-15 to 0-14, but Knocknagree were not to be denied.

A week later, Kanturk — by this stage knocked out of the SAHC semi-final by Charleville — sought to bounce back as they took on Cill na Martra, who were playing their first game in four weeks.

Cill Na Martra's Damien Ó hUrdail celebrates his second goal against Knocknagree. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Cill Na Martra's Damien Ó hUrdail celebrates his second goal against Knocknagree. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

In Mallow, Ian Walsh’s influence gave Kanturk an early 0-5 to 0-4 lead when Cill na Martra were handed a great opportunity as Daniel Ó Conaill was fouled for a penalty. While Micheál Ó Deasúna hit his spot-kick well, the ball came back off the upright and Kanturk pushed on to lead by 0-10 to 0-8 at half-time.

Kanturk were able to call on Aidan Walsh for the second half, but while Cian Clernon and Ian Walsh put them four clear in the early stages of the second half, Cill na Martra couldn’t be shaken off. Ciarán Ó Duinnín, Ó Deasúna and Daniel Ó Duinnín pointed to bring them back to within a point, 0-12 to 0-11. Extra time looked be in store as they won a late free, but it failed to find the target and Kanturk survived to progress to a meeting with Knocknagree in the final.

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