John Horgan: Can Midleton hurlers get Cork on track in the Munster club series?

Rebel clubs once dominated the provincial senior competition but in the modern era none have won it since Newtown in 2009
John Horgan: Can Midleton hurlers get Cork on track in the Munster club series?

Cathal Hickey of Glenn Rovers in action against Garan Manley of Midleton in the Premier SHC final last month. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

THE last of the county SHC finals in Munster was completed in Thurles last Sunday when Loughmore-Castleiney defeated Thurles Sarsfields.

In doing so, Loughmore-Castleiney secured the double in the Premier County, a remarkable achievement given the fact that there were quite a few dual players involved.

Sunday’s decider was a replay and having watched the drawn encounter and the replay it has to be said that the standard in both games was very high.

Would you say that the standard of those two games was higher than its Cork counterpart between the Glen and Midleton?

It is difficult to compare standards and the final on Leeside was of a very high quality as well which suggests that we could be in for a cracking Munster Club Championship.

Of course, that campaign has already got underway and the first game on TG4 last Sunday featured Ballygunner from Waterford against Ballyea from Clare, the latter being without one if not the best hurler in the country, Tony Kelly who is on a long-term injury list.

However, it’s doubtful if he could have prevented what eventually transpired, a runaway victory for Ballygunner who were hugely impressive in their 3-20 to 2-6 victory.

Ballygunner are hugely experienced in this competition and this was their eighth time on the trot representing Waterford.

What it all means is that the line-up for the two semi-finals is complete, Ballygunner taking on Loughmore-Castleiney and our own Midleton tackling the Limerick champions from Kilmallock who have Tony Considine calling the shots.

Cork’s record of success in this competition in recent times has not been what it once was when it was almost the sole preserve of the team that triumphed on Leeside in the '60s, '70s and '80s.

LEADERS

In the roll of honour, Cork clubs lead the way with 17 successes followed by Tipperary on 13, Clare and Limerick on 10 apiece and Waterford with six. The Rockies grabbed five titles for Cork with the Barrs on four, the Glen on three, Newtownshandrum on three, and Midleton on two.

However, most of those titles were won quite a while ago, all the more so with the big three clubs in the city and the trophy has not been won by a Cork club since Newtownshandrum who were victorious in 2009. Phil Noonan was in charge of that team and he followed in the footsteps of Ger Cunningham and Bernie O’Connor as winning managers.

So, you would have to say that it’s about time that a Cork club reigned supreme again.

Easier said than done, of course, and while Midleton were deserving winners of the Cork title last Sunday week and are worthy representatives of the county, they will get nothing easy if they are to repeat their victories of 1983 and 1987.

In the aftermath of their county final win over the Glen, team boss Ger Fitzgerald and team coach Ben O’Connor were at pains to stress that they will leave no stone unturned in trying to bring this title back to Cork.

Midleton manager Ger Fitzgerald and coach Ben O'Connor celebrate. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Midleton manager Ger Fitzgerald and coach Ben O'Connor celebrate. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

The fact that both Fitzgerald and O’Connor were members of a team that went all the way in this Munster Club competition will benefit Midleton and they will be in a position to get across their viewpoint of how best to deal with hurling in the depths of winter.

Kilmallock won a great county in Limerick, defeating Patrickswell in the final, and they will have home advantage in the Gaelic Grounds when they face the Magpies.

And any club team representing the best county over the past number of years will be difficult to overcome. To win a club championship, the big requirement is to be battle-hardened, to have come through a stern campaign in your own county before you travel further afield.

Midleton and Kilmallock fall into that category and both sides are very well-coached.

O’Connor has the more recent experience of a provincial campaign, having won the provincial title a few years ago with Charleville before they subsequently lost narrowly in the All-Ireland final and that’s bound to be beneficial too.

Even though the pitches across the province are in superb shape now in comparison to what they used to be, winter hurling is still a bigger task than what it might be on a summer Sunday. Physicality plays a bigger role in winter and you have to deal with more adverse weather conditions.

Midleton enjoyed their county final victory, did their bit of socialising, but they are back now at full tilt in preparation for the trip to Shannonside.

Winning back the Cork crown has removed a lot of the pressure and they will be ready for what is sure to be a huge test of their credentials again. Ballugunner have got a game under their belt already when they tackle Loughmore-Castleiney and the question here must be, can the Tipp champions continue on the remarkable run that they are now on in both codes?

The hurling season may be entering its final days, but there’s the promise of two fierce battles in these Munster Club semi-finals on the weekend after next.

In all grades, the provincial club championship has been a resounding success down the years and the victory of Kerry’s Kilmoyley over the Tipp champions, Moyne-Templetuohy in the intermediate championship last Sunday illustrated the fabulous work that John Meyler is doing in that part of the world.

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