Premier SHC: John Horgan on why Imokilly hurlers can challenge again

As Cork GAA clubs battle out on Sunday to reach the knockout stages of the PSHC, Imokilly are already waiting in the quarter-finals
Premier SHC: John Horgan on why Imokilly hurlers can challenge again

Imokilly's Jack McDonnell tackles Seandún's Blake Murphy during the Co-Op Superstores Premier SHC. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

WHILE clubs seek to make it through to the knockout stage of the PSHC this weekend, the Imokilly management team can sit back safe in the knowledge that they are safely berthed in the quarter-finals.

For a long time now the East Cork divisional unit has been the only representative from that section of the championship with a realistic chance of lifting the pot at the end of the season.

They did it in 2017, 2018, and 2019 and they were the undisputed champions in that three-year period.

Their hopes of making it four on the trot were scuttled by a very good UCC team last season, a team that ran the eventual champions Blackrock very close in an epic semi-final before losing out by a point after extra-time. Now Imokilly are back on the trail again after two wins in the Divisional/Colleges section of the championship and on the evidence presented, there are strong grounds for them to be serious title contenders again.

Their victories over UCC and Seandún were starkly contrasting, just a point between themselves and the Students after an encounter that could have gone either way before it was settled by a last-gasp winning point.

However, the gulf between the East Corkmen and Seandún was vast, a stroll last Sunday night at Páirc Uí Rinn resulted in a 32-point victory.

Imokilly's Alan Fenton has his shot blocked by Seandún's Killian Ahern. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Imokilly's Alan Fenton has his shot blocked by Seandún's Killian Ahern. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

What a management team can learn from such a comprehensive win is debatable, but there was no hanging about with this Imokilly squad of players and they never let up throughout.

Seandún deserve plenty of credit for their decision to re-enter the SHC after a lengthy absence and put in a fine effort, but their cause was not helped by the fact that the City Division board scheduled one of their junior semi-finals for the morning of the game, a point that was strongly made afterwards by team manager Paul McCarthy.

“We are proud of the lads who put up their hand to represent the division, but they were badly let down by the board. There was a JAHC game this morning, we asked for it off, there was another yesterday. All we were looking for was one day to put the matches back.’’ he said.

That situation certainly did not help Seandún’s cause, but on the night the class of Imokilly was always evident.

There are quite a few players on this Imokilly team that have three county medals on their mantlepiece, players like Seamie Harnedy, Brian Lawton, Will Leahy, Colm Barry, Dan Mangan, Brian Mulcahy, John Cronin, Ciaran O’Brien while others have won two.

They are still backboning the side, but they have been joined now by some very influential younger players, players like Ciarán Joyce, Liam O’Shea, Joe Stack, and Michael Kelly among others.

Bill Cooper has not featured thus far because of injury and his inclusion would further strengthen their hand.

Harnedy and Joyce did not play last Sunday night because of injury, but there is a depth of resources in the squad that guarantees that there is intense competition for starting places.

There is a fine blend of experience and youth in the squad and you also have some very experienced members of the management team who have been involved throughout.

In the encounter with UCC they had to illustrate a deep resolve in a game that was very delicately balanced right down to the last puck.

Like all divisional sides, and that number has dwindled considerably with no participation by some, there has to be a balancing act as all the players are also heavily involved with their clubs.

In a lot of cases, players will have to play on consecutive days, but that is the way it is and it's an accepted fact of life.

Imokilly will not know their quarter-final opponents until after the weekend, but they will be given the utmost respect by any opposition.

In the 90s divisional sides were very prominent at the business end of the campaign with Imokilly, Avondhu, and Carbery all lifting the old trophy.

Those days of dominance are no more and it really is left to Imokilly to fly the flag now.

They do so because they want to and have very strong and experienced management teams driving them on.

There is an acceptance that hurdles have to be overcome and that collective training is very limited, all the more so at this juncture because of player involvement on the club front.

In their three winning years of 2017, '18, and '19, Fergal Condon had them very organised from early in the season and they were up and running in challenge games, often outside the county.

They get strong support too from the divisional board which helps considerably.

Regaining the title will be extremely difficult with all the big clubs almost certain to be in the chase again coming down the home straight.

This weekend one club will go straight through to a semi-final while five more will enter the quarter-finals to join Imokilly.

It will become far more intriguing when it’s all or nothing in those games, but after being out in the cold last season, Imokilly are back in again for what they hope will be another tilt at a title, one that they have shown in the recent past that they know how to win.

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