Cork hurling: Better balance was the difference for new champs Midleton

The management team led by Ben O’Connor and Ger Fitzgerald helped to completely revitalise the squad after losing to Sars in the group stages
Cork hurling: Better balance was the difference for new champs Midleton

Luke O'Farrell of Midleton in action against David Dooling of Glenn Rovers. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

BACK on October 10, when Midleton faced Sarsfield’s in the last Group B game of the Premier SHC, it looked as though the future county champions were in action that day in Páirc Uí Rinn.

However, you would not have thought for a second that the team in question was Midleton.

The Magpies were out-fought and out-hurled and looked well off the pace as contenders for county glory. The turnaround in their performance levels since has been truly startling and must be commended.

The management team of Ben O’Connor and Ger Fitzgerald helped to completely revitalise the squad in the weeks since.

For all that, you could even argue that there was little sign of their upturn in form when they just about got over 14-man Erin’s Own in the quarter-final. They really came to life in the seismic semi-final victory over last year’s champions Blackrock though, and maintained that momentum with a brilliant first-half display in the county final, the backbone of their 0-24 to 1-18 win over Glen Rovers.

In the first half, Midleton sharpshooters Cormac Beausang and Luke O’Farrell, who scored 2-5 between them from play against the Rockies, were kept quiet, but unfortunately for the Glen, the other forwards were not.

Sean O’Meara, Ross O’Regan, Pa White, and Conor Lehane were on fire early on, contributing heavily, as Midleton rifled over 12 of their first 14 points from play.

The Glen were never going to go down without a fight and almost got out of jail when Conor Dorris’ late ground-stroke went agonisingly the wrong side of Brion Saunderson’s post. They can have no complaints overall, as Midleton were the better team.

The Glen’s first score from play didn’t come until the 18th minute, predictably from the stick of Patrick Horgan. They were 0-9 to 0-3 down at the first water break, while there was exactly 27.23 on the clock when Horgan nudged home a goal that was the proverbial shot in the arm for their challenge.

The Glen would have been delighted to have only been four behind at half-time, and conversely, the Magpies would have been frustrated that their first-half dominance had not been reflected on the scoreboard.

STAR TURN

In that period, the Midleton attackers may have been receiving all the plaudits, yet centre-back Tommy O’Connell was getting on a lot of ball too, with the 2020 All-Ireland U20 winner further bolstering his growing reputation.

Even when Lehane had scored the first two points of the second half from placed balls they couldn’t quite shake off the Glen, and the nerves really started to tell around the 40-minute mark. Whereas in the first half everything Midleton struck went sailing over the bar, suddenly there was anxiety in their striking, hitting wide after wide with even the previously unerring Lehane struggling to find the mark.

Simon Kennefick scored two huge points between the 45 and 47 minutes, to level, and at that juncture you have fancied the Glen, the kings of the dogfight. However, Lehane did slot an easy free straight after to give Midleton a one-point lead at the water break.

It was noticeable that Beausang finally got going in the last quarter, after being switched to wing-forward, securing that tap-over free for Lehane, before he slotted his first point from play.

There were some very poor wides from both sides coming down the stretch, to be expected given the importance of the occasion.

Midleton were deserving winners of their first title since 2013, of that there’s no question.

A special word has to go to Conor Lehane. He was always going to be the main man up front for Midleton, and he duly delivered, slotting five super points from play and 13 in total.

When he knocked over two brilliant points from play in the first and seventh minutes you knew he had brought his A game to proceedings and that he was going to put on a bit of a show. His assist for one of Ross O’Regan’s points in the first half was simply outrageous, and on this kind of form, there is no better hurler in Cork.

It certainly was a wonderful ending to what was a difficult year for Lehane, given how he was left off of the Cork panel this year.

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