KILKENNY hurling boss Brian Cody is always of the opinion that the best team wins the All-Ireland every season and he’s right of course.
Well, the best team won the Cork Premier County SHC last Sunday, let there be no dissenting voices. Midleton were superbly coached by Ben O’Connor, with a management team very well led by Ger Fitzgerald.
O’Connor’s CV as a top hurling coach continues to grow, his latest success arriving after he led Charleville to the PIHC just a few short years ago.
When Midleton landed the SHC title eight years ago there was a feeling the squad would go on to win another one or two, given their age profile.
They did contest the 2018 final, losing to Imokilly, but while they are usually among the pre-season contenders, it didn’t happen for them again. That was until last Sunday’s deserved triumph.
Cork club teams might not be winning on the provincial or All-Ireland stage as they used to, but the championship on Leeside is still damn hard to win. In fact, it’s even more difficult now because of the very successful format that was introduced by the county board.
Firstly, you have to emerge from what might be a very competitive group. Then into cut-throat knockout games.
To claim the big prize at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Midleton had to see off Erin’s Own, then the reigning champions from Blackrock and a Glen team that was contesting its third final in as many years.
Not one easy task. And it must be remembered that Midleton entered the knockout stages on the back of a heavy defeat to Sarsfield’s.
But when the chips were really down they were the team that proved themselves better than all the rest. They became more and more galvanised with every outing, the balance in the team got better and when the last, big question was posed, they had the correct answer.
They made life extremely difficult for themselves late on against the Glen, with some wayward shooting and they could have been punished if the Glen had availed of a last-gasp opportunity.
But in the end, Midleton will be worthy Cork representatives in the Munster club championship against Kilmallock.
They defended with great resolve last Sunday with Tommy O’Connell continuing to grow in stature in the number six jersey, a spot that has never really been adequately filled by Cork since Ronan Curran. Now we have two young entrants in the race to do just that, the Midleton man and young Ciarán Joyce from Castlemartyr.
Cormac Walsh embellished his status as one of the best club players in Cork while Ciarmhac Smyth and Sam Quirke illustrated that the future looks quite rosy for this Midleton team.
Quite rightly, Conor Lehane won the Man of the Match award with a haul of 13 points, some of them exquisite scores. Many believe he should not have been omitted from the Cork squad last season and it now looks a done deal that he must be recalled.
And what about Ross O’Regan? A return of a quartet of superb points illustrated what this young man is capable of and the talent that he possesses.
Pa White, Sean O’Meara, and Cormac Beausang all delivered important points too for a team that had the Glen chasing them for the most part.
Of course, the Glen deserve huge credit for the manner in which they reinvented themselves from being nine points in arrears to tieing the game through Simon Kennefick. He hit some fine points in that Glen recovery.
Midleton did their most important work in the opening half and that was very much the foundation stone for their victory.
The Glen fought ferociously to get back on level terms, but the East Cork team had the extra bit of energy to get them over the line.
It was a fine county final, in front of a big audience and referee Mark Maher, in his first county final, did a good job.
The Glen’s consistency of being involved in another final must be noted, but that won’t console them too much right now.
But all Glen teams always bounce back and having won a great Premier 1 county minor title a few weeks ago, they too have a solid base going forward.
But it’s Midleton’s time again, back in the central position at the table Cork hurling.