Cork GAA season in review: Mid Cork clubs duke it out for county crown

It'll be Éire Óg against Aghabullogue in the IAHC final
Cork GAA season in review: Mid Cork clubs duke it out for county crown

Éire Óg's Colm O'Callaghan breaks from Douglas' Fiachra Ó Luanaigh. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

IT'S often the case that, in trying to combine hurling and football, a club will fall between two stools and fail to make an impact in either code, but, in the recent past in Cork, there have been a few notable examples of a rising tide lifting both boats.

Valley Rovers (2009 PIFC, IHC), Grenagh (2013 IFC, JAHC), Bandon (2016 PIHC, IFC) and Kanturk (2017 PIHC, IFC) all managed to take two titles in the same year and the last two teams standing in the intermediate A hurling grade – Éire Óg and Aghabullogue – tried to balance dual demands, too.

The two Muskerry sides would have begun 2020 with designs on making an impact in the newly recalibrated grade, while at the same time being aware that there were far from alone in that regard. Each club had found themselves drawn with two second teams from senior outfits – Douglas and Sarsfields in Éire Óg’s case, along with Meelin, while Aghabullogue had Glen Rovers and Midleton for company as well as another fancied team, neighbours Cloughduv.

 Brian Verling, Cloughduv, battling Danny Morris, Glen Rovers. Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Brian Verling, Cloughduv, battling Danny Morris, Glen Rovers. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

For Éire Óg, Sarsfields in Ballygarvan provided the first Group B opposition at the outset of August and it was the kind of game where they knew they had to be tuned in, given the firepower the Riverstown team possessed. That was shown as they moved ahead in the 18th minute thanks to an Aidan Hackett goal and, while Eoin O’Shea and Colm O’Callaghan had points to put Éire Óg back in front, 0-7 to 1-3, Sars struck for another goal, scored by Ben Graham.

By half-time, the sides were level at 2-5 to 0-11 and points from O’Callaghan and Kevin Hallissey were replied to by Graham to leave things still tied at the three-quarter mark. From there, however, Éire Óg pushed on through O’Shea, John Cooper, Joe Cooper and Lar Considine to get up and running with a 0-20 to 2-9 victory.

A week later, they faced off against Douglas in Ballincollig and while the city side had beaten Meelin the previous week, they had lost key players to the senior team and Éire Óg took full advantage to run out 4-21 to 0-11 winners. Having had to battle to lead by 0-12 to 0-7 at half-time, with Ciarán Sheehan impressive, Éire Óg pulled clear in the second half as O’Callaghan and Considine had goals in quick succession. Daniel Goulding also found the net as they tightened their grip on the game and Considine struck for a fourth goal at the death.

The way the fixture-list had fallen, Éire Óg’s two wins meant they were guaranteed top spot in the group ahead of their final game against the already-eliminated Meelin, with Sarsfields and Douglas playing off for second. However, there was still a motivation to overcome the Duhallow side as the two highest-ranked group winners would bypass the quarter-finals and move straight to the semis. They did that in emphatic fashion in Mallow, with Joe Cooper scoring 1-5 while Eoin O’Shea got eight points in a 1-28 to 0-13 victory. It gave them a scoring difference of 45 points and top seeding, 21 points better than Kildorrery, who were second.

In third place in the rankings were Aghabullogue, who won all of their games in Group C but would have to negotiate the quarter-final stage. They had started with what was arguably their toughest assignment, against fellow Muskerry side Cloughduv in Ballincollig, and they had to work for what was in the end an 11-point victory.

Goals from Brian Verling and Mark Walsh put Cloughduv into a 2-0 to 0-5 lead in the opening ten minutes but Aghabullogue showed a noticeable improvement thereafter as Paudie Twomey’s goal was followed by points from Dan Ó Duinnín, Matthew Bradley and free-taker Shane Tarrant as the Coachford club led by 1-11 to 2-3 at half-time.

 Sean O'Connell in action for Aghabullogue. Picture: Larry Cummins
Sean O'Connell in action for Aghabullogue. Picture: Larry Cummins

Early in the second half, Verling and Walsh were on target as Cloughduv came within two points but Aghabullogue regrouped and Tarrant and Dineen sent them clear before Luke Casey rifled in a late goal to leave them comfortable by the end, victors on a scoreline of 2-20 to 2-9.

Next up for them were Glen Rovers, who had lost to Midleton and were seeking to stay alive in the competition. In Blarney, the city side showed that urgency as three Evan O’Connell points helped them to a 0-5 to 0-2 lead by the water-break and they were 0-10 to 0-4 in front as half-time approached before another Aghabullogue surge.

Bradley sent over three frees to halve the deficit and the Glen lead was fully wiped out in the early stages of the second half. With the momentum, they pushed on, with sub Luke Casey easing some of the scoring burden on Bradley, and while the Glen had a late goal from Ryan McGuckin, Aghabullogue came out on top by 0-21 to 1-15.

They were almost guaranteed a knockout spot but, prior to the last match, against Midleton in Ballinora, there was a slight chance that defeat could leave them on the wrong end of a three-way tie. Again, there was a slow start as a goal from Midleton’s Paul Connaughton put them 1-5 to 0-2 in front but Bradley and Tarrant were on hand as Aghabullogue fought back to tie, 0-9 to 1-6, by half-time. The same two players, and Casey and Dineen, were instrumental as the lead was built in the second period and the final scoreline was exactly the same as that against the Glen, 0-21 to 1-15.

Top spot was secured, meaning a quarter-final tie with Mayfield in Páirc Uí Rinn in mid-September. This time around, Aghabullogue made much of their impact in the first half and were left having to withstand late pressure from the northsiders to ensure that they came out on top.

Five unanswered points put them into a 0-6 to 0-1 lead but, after a Mayfield response from Shane Duggan and Shane O’Donovan, only a super piece of defending from Aidan Barry-Murphy prevented Duggan from getting a goal. Aghabullogue made the most of that let-off, with a Bradley goal helping them to a 1-10 to 0-6 half-time lead. In the second half, however, Mayfield were much-improved, with sub Nicky Kelly having an immediate impact.

But for a superb save by Aghabullogue goalkeeper Finbarr Foley, Jamie Curtin would have had a Mayfield goal but the momentum remained with them. Though Aghabullogue still led, 1-14 to 0-14, as the end of normal time neared, Curtin profited from good play by Kelly to fire home a levelling goal. They couldn’t find a lead score, though, and deep in injury time, points from Tarrant and Bradley eased Aghabullogue’s nerves and sent them through to play Kildorrery in the semi-finals.

September 27 was the day slated for both semi-finals. The previous week, Aghabullogue had qualified for the intermediate A football semis and they were looking to repeat the group-stage win they had had over Kildorrery in that competition. They began well with points from Dineen and Tarrant and Dineen would have goaled but for a fine Ian Butler save.

While an 0-8 to 0-4 advantage was an accurate reflection of the flow of the game, Kildorrery were right back in it as James McEniry cut the lead to a point by half-time. with a goal. Then James Keating’s pointed sideline cut levelled matters on the restart but Aghabullogue had dealt with such challenges right through the championship.

With Paul Ring, Seán O’Connell and Seán Feury all excelleing, points from Dinneen, Tarrant, Bradley and Billy Casey had them 0-20 to 1-8 ahead by the second-half water-break and Luke Casey’s goal extended the lead in the closing stages. While Eamon O’Connor did have a second goal for Kildorrery late on, there was to be no denying Aghabullogue, who won by 1-25 to 2-13.

On the same day in Blarney, there was high drama as Éire Óg renewed acquaintance with Sarsfields, who had beaten Cloughduv in the quarter-finals. While Éire Óg recovered from a slow start to lead by 0-3 to 0-2, Sars pushed 0-6 to 0-4 ahead as the water-break water break approached, when Éire Óg struck for the first goal, through Daniel Goulding.

After the restart, Cormac Duggan put Sars back in front again with another pair of frees and they were 0-9 to 1-5 ahead at half-time. Kevin Hallissey levelled on the resumption and, though the impressive Conor Inglis and Duggan replied for Sars, four on the trot from Éire Óg looked to be a key spell, Hallissey with two of those.

Sarsfields' Kevin Crowley and Douglas' Richard Murphy trying to win the ball in the Co-op Superstores Cork IAHC at Blarney. Picture Denis Minihane.
Sarsfields' Kevin Crowley and Douglas' Richard Murphy trying to win the ball in the Co-op Superstores Cork IAHC at Blarney. Picture Denis Minihane.

They couldn’t shake Sars off though and, after Colm O’Callaghan’s point made it 0-13 to 1-11, Patrick O’Driscoll levelled and then Duggan found the net. Three minutes of normal time remained but Éire Óg didn’t panic. After goalkeeper Dyland Desmond landed a big free, they worked a fine score, finished by Hallissey, and then in the 65th minute Desmond levelled with a replica of his first effort.

However, Sars looked to have done enough as they established a lead again in extra time, with Duggan’s tenth point of the day putting them 1-20 to 1-17 ahead in the 74th minute. Éire Óg repeated their normal-time feat with three more points to level, courtesy of Hallissey, Brian Corcoran and Joe Cooper. That meant the first-ever penalty shootout in Cork championship history and Desmond was the Éire Óg hero as, despite missing the first penalty, he saved two of Sars’ while two more were off-target and Considine and Joe Cooper found the to give them victory.

The following week, Éire Óg overcame O’Donovan Rossa in the senior A football, while Aghabullogue’s double dream came to an end with defeat to Mitchelstown. Their hurling hopes remain strong, however.

Éire Óg's Kevin Hallissey shoots from Douglas' Ian Lucey. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Éire Óg's Kevin Hallissey shoots from Douglas' Ian Lucey. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

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