Seamus Harnedy and St Ita's one win away from first Imokilly hurling title

With Martin Walsh as manager and Páidí Gould coach, East Cork club are favourites to beat Erin's Own in the final this Sunday 
Seamus Harnedy and St Ita's one win away from first Imokilly hurling title

St Ita's Seamus Harnedy is tackled by Cloughduv's Mark Verling in the 2018 JAHC. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

AS they gear up for Sunday's East Cork Oil JAHC final in Dungourney against Erin's Own, St Ita's will be hoping that they will reach the promised land at the third time of asking. 

After three impressive victories in the current campaign, there is a growing sense of belief and optimism that this well-prepared side can create history and win their first-ever title at this level.

Double disappointment has been felt in recent years, with final defeats to Dungourney in 2015 and Russell Rovers in 2018. Both clubs delivered at county level after.

 St Ita's Sean Supple battling with Russell Rovers' Chris Ruddy, during the East Cork JAHC final at Castlemartyr. Picture: David Keane.
St Ita's Sean Supple battling with Russell Rovers' Chris Ruddy, during the East Cork JAHC final at Castlemartyr. Picture: David Keane.

Now it's Erin's Own who stand in the way of Ita's title ambitions after the Caherlag side overcame Cobh in the second semi-final in Ballinacurra on Saturday last. Erin's Own had squeezed through to the penultimate round on points difference after a dramatic last day of round-robin action. 

Despite losing a number of players to the senior grade as their first team advanced to the quarter finals, they still have a very solid team that will be searching for the club's first title since 2007. Former seniors Pat Fitzgerald, Shane Murphy and Michael Murphy will add experience to what is a largely youthful team that also includes Cathal and Ian O'Mahony and free-taker Kevin Cronin, who was top scorer last weekend.

This year the championship contenders were down to nine in the eastern barony and there was a sense amongst neutral observers that 2021 might see a new name on the famous Jamesy Kelleher Cup. Top seeds in Group 3, St Ita's went about their business in a very positive manner, defeating Killeagh by eight points first time out and then with the considerable help of 3-1 from Ed Coleman defeating Midleton 4-21 to 1-15, to book their place in the last four. 

The job was done in equally impressive fashion 10 days ago as the challenge of 2020 beaten finalists Carraig na  bhFear was overcome. A very solid first half performance saw the Pilmore-based side buildup a comfortable interval advantage with team captain and Cork star Seamie Harnedy scoring a massive 18 points.

"Chasing the dream" is the how Martin Walsh describes St Ita's pursuit of the Jamesy Kelleher Cup. The Ballinacurra native is team manager and has been very happy with the work done by his side so far. Now after three impressive wins, St Ita's have to answer one more big question.

"The lads have done very well - they are a great bunch and so far we have achieved our first objective of reaching the final. 'Now we have refocused and are preparing the best we can for the decider. The fact that we have had the two week break gives us some recovery time."

Seamie Harnedy's return to fitness has also been a huge boost over recent weeks.

''We are delighted to have Seamie back. We took a chance earlier this season leaving him on the bench, although he was willing to play despite not being really recovered. 

"It was a bad tear so it needed time. Thankfully all the other guys stepped up and were counted. 

I think that's the key this year as we have really good balance and the likes of the O'Brien brothers, Cathal Deane, Daniel Hickey, Ed Coleman and many more are all playing big roles in various games."

Walsh is delighted to have Páidí Gould alongside him as team coach. 

"He has been excellent with the players this year and has brought something extra to the group. Páidí has a really good underage record and I can see him really going places in the years ahead."

With selectors Michael Griffin, Sean Harnedy and Art Supple also on the sideline there is plenty of hurling knowledge to call upon.

''This is a great club. We are lucky to have great people involved in all aspects of the team and St Ita's are really on the map now. Seamie has helped make the name famous far and wide. It would be great to see him lift the Jamesy Kelleher Cup."

Meantime club secretary Siobhan Foley sums up the mood in the village: "While we are trying to keep the build-up as low key as possible, there is a keen sense of excitement amongst this small rural community. You can be guaranteed the village will be empty come 2.30pm on Sunday as all roads lead to Dungourney."

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