PIHC final preview: Spillane's return to help Castlelyons see off Courcey Rovers

Castlelyons are favourites to repeat their win from the 2020 semi-final meeting
PIHC final preview: Spillane's return to help Castlelyons see off Courcey Rovers

Fergus Lordan, Courcey Rovers, and Colm Spillane, Castlelyons, challenge for possession. Picture: Larry Cummins.

CASTLELYONS and Courcey Rovers certainly can’t plead ignorance in terms of knowing their opponents ahead of tomorrow evening’s Co-op SuperStores Premier IHC final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh (5pm).

Last year, Castlelyons came out on top when the clubs met at the semi-final stage, with Anthony Spillane scoring 1-5 and his brother Michael landing 0-5 in a 1-23 to 1-17 victory at Páirc Uí Rinn. Two years before that, a quarter-final at the Boreenmanna Road venue was drawn before Tadgh O’Sullivan’s 1-9 helped Courceys to win by 1-15 to 0-14.

In 2016, they clashed in Blarney in round 2B after both had lost their opening fixtures, Castlelyons earning a 1-17 to 1-13 victory to stay alive in the championship. That was after Courceys had come back down from senior — in 2011, the year they had been promoted, an 0-8 to 1-4 win over Castlelyons was part of their successful journey.

Alan Fenton of Castlelyons steadies himself before firing over a point against Courcey Rovers in last year’s Co-op SuperStores Premier IHC semi-final at Páirc Uí Rinn.	Picture: Larry Cummins
Alan Fenton of Castlelyons steadies himself before firing over a point against Courcey Rovers in last year’s Co-op SuperStores Premier IHC semi-final at Páirc Uí Rinn. Picture: Larry Cummins

For Castlelyons, 2013 was the year they reached the final, losing narrowly to Youghal, but in the seasons after that disappointment, they struggled to make an impact in the latter stages. It took until last year for them to make it back to a decider, losing out to Blarney.

Regrouping at the start of this year, the focus was on taking it step by step rather than looking at getting back to the final.

“We have access to a performance coach, a very good guy by the name of Stephen Barrett,” says manager Ciarán McGann.

He’d have been involved with Derek McGrath in Waterford and he’s now with a French cycling team, but he’s actually a Castlelyons native. He would have given us a couple of talks during the year, little areas to focus in on.

“We just tried a few different things and tweaks and it’s worked so far.”

They played their last group game on October 9, with victory over Valley Rovers earning a semi-final spot, but dual commitments for opponents Ballinhassig meant that the last-four tie didn’t take place until last Saturday.

Ballinhassig had beaten Carrigaline in their quarter-final but a goal from a penalty by goalkeeper Jack Barry ensured that Castlelyons took an early lead and they were 1-7 to 0-7 in front at half-time.

However, the third quarter saw the flow of the game change and it looked as if Ballinhassig might reel them in. The lead was down to just a point by the second water break but two points from Alan Fenton — he finished with seven — ensured they had breathing space in injury-time before a late, late Ballinhassig goal left a point in it at the end, 1-17 to 1-16.

Beyond the result, a major boost came from the fact that Cork panellist Colm Spillane — out of action since the opening game against Watergrasshill — was back and played the full hour, alongside Eoin Maye at midfield.

A fully fit Spillane would be a real asset for Castlelyons, who already boast a strong spine with the Barrys, Jack in goal and Colm at full-back, Leo Sexton, Fenton, and Anthony Spillane. Now, having beaten Valleys and Ballinhassig, they are gearing up to face a third consecutive Carrigdhoun side.

Courceys also won the golden ticket of a semi-final spot, coming out on top in a group featuring Carrigaline, Éire Óg and Youghal before having to face their neighbours Valleys, who had beaten Kilworth in the quarter-finals. Local derbies can be close games, but the Ballinadee/Ballinspittle side were on form and came out on top by 2-19 to 0-17.

Just like his fellow goalkeeper Jack Barry, Courceys number 1 Stephen Nyhan scored a first-half goal from a penalty — as well as landing three frees — and they led by 1-10 to 0-8 at half-time.

Ronan Nyhan’s goal eight minutes in the second half put them into a lead that was never likely to be overhauled and they had eight points to spare at the end, with Richard Sweetnam and Seán Twomey also among the scores. At the other end, Fergus Lordan is a key figure in defence.

As with the teams’ previous meetings, it’s likely that there won’t be much in it. With Colm Spillane back and the memory of last year driving them on, it could be that Castlelyons have the edge.

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