John Horgan on the magic of the Cork club hurling finals

Senior hurling final day in Cork has always been the biggest sporting event of the year on Leeside, while Fr O'Neill's and Kanturk should also be a cracker
John Horgan on the magic of the Cork club hurling finals

Glen Rovers Robert Downey is tackled by Sarsfields' James Sweeney during the Co-Op Superstores Premier SHC semi-final. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

GREAT expectations are not always realised but next Sunday’s double-header of senior hurling finals, at Senior A and Premier are rich in promise.

Senior hurling final day in Cork has always been the biggest sporting event of the year on Leeside and was often referred to as Cork’s Little All-Ireland.

Next Sunday we are getting two for the price of one, a double helping of hurling featuring four teams who are richly deserving of their participation on the day.

With the new structure, you have to negotiate a group stage and hope you are one of the top two to emerge into the knockout stage. From there on in the margin for error is gone.

Sunday’s four participants, Fr O’Neill’s and Kanturk in the Senior A final, and the Glen and Midleton in the Premier decider, are there on merit.

Both of last season’s beaten finalists are back again, O’Neill’s in the A final after losing by a point to Charleville last season and the Glen, beaten by the Rockies in the Premier showdown. So, it goes without saying, they have to be commended for their efforts in getting past those losses.

The Glen have had a shaky start to 2021, well beaten by Douglas, when they appeared to be well off the pace in terms of returning to the final. Therefore, a lot of credit has to go to everybody concerned in the Glen.

Team boss Ian Lynam very successfully got the players to pick themselves up and the spirit and resilience that they have exhibited since has been admirable.

Midleton too suffered a defeat at the group stage, losing to Sarsfields but also dusted themselves down, setting up a first county final against the Glen since 1991, which the Magpies won.

John Fenton posted seven points that day, Colman Quirke secured their goal while Paudie O’Brien, current team boss Ger Fitzgerald, John Boylan, Pat Hartnett and Kevin Hennessy all got on the scoresheet. Ger Riordan was the Glen’s top scorer with 0-7, Christy Ring raised their green flag and Pat Horgan pointed as the contest ended 1-17 to 1-8 in Midleton’s favour.

Midleton are seeking their eighth title this Sunday, the Glen their 29th.

Fr O'Neill's Jason Hankard scores his goal past Bride Rovers' goalkeeper Cian Hogan and Jason Pratt at Páirc Uí Chaoimh last weekend. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Fr O'Neill's Jason Hankard scores his goal past Bride Rovers' goalkeeper Cian Hogan and Jason Pratt at Páirc Uí Chaoimh last weekend. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

In the Senior A final, Fr O’Neill’s are bidding to dine at the top table of Cork senior hurling for the first time ever and last Saturday they had to overcome an always gritty Bride Rovers. And they did so without their marquee names, Ger Millerick and Deccie Dalton.

Both are Cork senior hurlers and when a small club loses two of that calibre the odds are very much stacked up against them. Sometimes, such adversity can be galvanising.

Kevin O’Sullivan filled Dalton’s boots where converting from placed balls was concerned and he exhibited great composure with his striking. Jason Hankard took his goal with great aplomb and the defence held firm, with Mark O’Keeffe leading by example.

Now they must go again for what is likely to be an even greater challenge from a Kanturk side equally determined to join the elite clubs again. They had a ferocious battle with Newcestown in their semi-final, a game that was decided in extra-time.

Last season they lost out in a gripping encounter to Charleville in the semi-final and there’s a lot of experience in this side. 

They have coped very well without star keeper Anthony Nash after his transfer to South Liberties. And an illustration of their defensive prowess is the fact that they have not conceded a goal thus far in this championship.

DIFFICULT

It remains a tall order for O’Neill’s to come through again without Millerick and Dalton but as we saw in Páirc Uí Chaoimh last Saturday, they came up with the goods when the tough questions were posed.

And the pain of losing last season’s final will drive them on all that bit more.

In all four clubs this week there will be a huge buzz and the few training sessions will have a great gathering of supporters in an anticipatory mood.

These are the days that all clubs strive for, the days of their lives for the players, going up to the big house down the Marina for a county final.

For the vast majority of players, it’s the biggest day of their sporting lives and, as they say, the winner takes it all.

And going back to a loser's dressing room has to be the loneliest place of all.

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