No long droughts ending for last four standing in Cork Premier SHC

Of the semi-finalists, Midleton (2013) have the longest gap to bridge
No long droughts ending for last four standing in Cork Premier SHC

Glen Rovers' David Noonan bursting past Imokilly's Mark McCarthy during Sunday's Co-op SuperStores Cork Premier SHC quarter-final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

When Blackrock beat Douglas in Sunday’s Co-op SuperStores Cork Premier SHC quarter-final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, it meant that there were five teams left in the championship.

The Rockies, the reigning county champions, had joined Sarsfields and Midleton in the semi-finals while Imokilly and Glen were able to battle it out for the remaining last-four spot – and the five sides accounted for all of the last nine title winners.

The Glen’s come-from-behind victory against the East Cork divisional side – champions in 2017, 2018 and 2019 – means that the last four clubs to triumph are all still in the mix. Whoever comes out on top to claim the Seán Óg Murphy Cup, the longest ‘drought’ ending would be eight years, back to Midleton’s 2013 triumph. However, all four of those clubs did bridge long gaps in recent times.

It might seem hard to believe now, given that they won four in the space of seven years, that Sars’ 2008 title was the Riverstown club’s first since 1957 – and their only one prior to that came in 1951. That win to end the long wait was proof of how a team can push on once a monkey is off their backs – and as well as the four titles, there were three other final appearances, in 2009, 2013 and 2015.

The latter two of those were defeats where the opposition came good after a period of frustration. In 2013, Midleton – inspired by Conor Lehane’s tally of 2-10 – saw off Sars to take the crown for the first time since 1991 and then, two years later, the Glen’s victory against the Glanmire outfit in Páirc Uí Rinn was their first since 1989. They then showed that it was no fluke as the title was retained in 2016 – the first team to go back-to-back since Erin’s Own in 2006 and 2007.

Then, last October, Blackrock saw off the Glen after extra time in Páirc Uí Chaoimh to move to 33 titles at the top of the roll of honour – their first time going all the way since 2002. That victory in 2002 was their third in four years after a 14-year gap was bridged in 1999, but you have to go back to 1956 for the ending of their longest wait, a 25-year stint dating back to the 1931 title.

When the Rockies lost their first game of this year’s championship to Erin’s Own, it would have been easy to use the catch-all excuse of them having worked so hard to get to the top of the tree only for their hunger to now be dulled; instead, they bounced back to beat Charleville and then overcame St Finbarr’s in their winner-take-all final group match.

That propelled them into the quarter-finals against Douglas, a repeat of last year’s game at the same stage, which the Rockies had won by five points. This time around, Douglas were the higher seeds, having won all three games to top their group but again the outcome was the same, with the Rockies having ten points to spare in the end.

Speaking afterwards, Blackrock manager Fergal Ryan said that experience had stood to his players, but at the same time he acknowledged that Douglas being down to 14 men for more than half the game was just as valid a factor.

It’s an usual situation that the four teams still standing all have fairly fresh memories of going all the way, it’s an equaliser of sorts but of course it doesn’t mean that any one of the quartet is benefiting from an absence of pressure. The Sars-Glen semi-final will be interesting from the point of view of Sars having had a longer break – with no guarantee of that being a good thing. That said, the Glen were in such a position last year and came through against Erin’s Own, who had seen off Sars.

And where will the next drought-ending triumph come from? The last winners before the four remaining clubs were Carrigtwohill in 2011 but they will compete in senior A next year following defeat to Charleville in the relegation play-off. Newtownshandrum (2009) and Erin’s Own (2007) are next, followed by Na Piarsaigh (2004).

Before 1993, their 25th win, St Finbarr’s longest gap was the 13 years between the titles of 1906 and 1919 and nobody could have imagined that they would still be waiting for a 26th, almost 30 years on. With a team liberally sprinkled with Cork senior and U20 panellists, they were outside fancies this year and, ten points up at half-time against Erin’s Own, they were in a great position to advance only to draw that game and then lose to the Rockies.

While manager Ronan Curran has departed, the potential remains there but they will know that potential has to be converted. That’s something Douglas – without a senior title in their history – are keenly aware of, too, and while Sunday’s loss will have been tough to take, they will still be in a relatively good position when the 2022 championship begins.

Championships are hard to win, as the four clubs left have all experienced. With just three games remaining, the margins are likely to be fine.

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