A clash with Kanturk in the Co-op SuperStores Cork Senior A Hurling Championship final is the prize as Fr O’Neills clash with Bride Rovers in a tantalising East Cork derby at Páirc Uí Chaoimh this afternoon (1pm).
Last year’s beaten finalists O’Neills have claimed an automatic semi-final spot, as they did in 2020, while their Rathcormac/Bartlemy opponents finished second to Mallow in their group before seeing off Blarney with an accomplished quarter-final performance a fortnight ago.
Having started their campaign with a draw against Newcestown – needing a late goal from Joe Millerick to earn a draw – O’Neills saw off Killeagh and then Cloyne to top the group and take one of the two automatic spots.
While manager Robbie Dalton knows that things have not been perfect, he is happy to see an upward trend on the graph.
“It’s all about progression,” he says, “and we progressed well, I think, from the Newcestown game.
“We didn’t play at all in that game and we were lucky to come away with a draw, we just played very poorly.
“The Killeagh match was always going to be a tough game so we were just happy to come through in that and get over the line. We played well against Cloyne and that’s what it’s all about, progressing, so you have to be happy enough with that.”
Last year, O’Neills beat Bride when the sides met in the group stage in Páirc Uí Rinn, with other victories against Kilworth and Ballymartle securing top spot and a semi-final place. Having beaten Newcestown there, they ended up losing to Charleville in the final by just a point.
In the wake of that, Dave Colbert and Bryan Sweeney, who had led O’Neills to the 2019 premier IHC as well as Munster intermediate glory, stepped down after three years in charge. In came Dalton and his management team of coach Seán Prendergast and selectors Micheál Broderick, Quentin Higgins, Luke Swayne. Many of the group were involved when the club won the Premier U21 title in 2018 and now they hope to match last year’s achievement and hopefully go one better.
“There’s a completely new management team in there,” Dalton says. “The lads that were there were there for the last few years and did very well, to be fair to them.
“In fairness, they’re a fantastic bunch of lads. They play as a unit and they’d die for one another on the field. That’s what makes them such a good team, to be honest.”
And he’s well aware that today’s opponents are cut from a similar cloth. Bride, senior from 2004-2019, reached the quarter-finals of the senior A in 2020 and were hugely impressive in overcoming Blarney despite an early four-point deficit.
Dalton expects that game to stand to Bride, whereas the advantage of the quarter-final bye can be a double-edged sword in that the lay-off without a competitive match can be tough on teams. Nevertheless, he’s looking forward to it.
“With Bride Rovers involved in the junior football too, if they had beaten Urhan in that quarter-final our game wouldn’t have been on this week,” he says.
“We actually had a match lined up for Wednesday night against Kilmallock but we had to pull that.
“Even with being out for so long, they’re still tuned in. Training is going well and fellas are enjoying it.
“We know that we’ll have a tough job trying to get over Bride Rovers as they’re a strong team. They’ve had a good campaign – they went out and won their first two games and then played Mallow and if they had won that then they’d have been in the semi-final.
“They beat Blarney, a good team, very well. They just didn’t give them a chance to play – they hassled and harried and got stuck in and won every ruck.
“They play for one another as well, you can see that.”