GIVEN the way the inter-county hurling championship went, we should be circumspect in floating the possibility of an early-season match-up being repeated at the business end of the campaign.
First, we were told that Limerick-Waterford was the first of a trilogy; then, after the Déise faded and Clare positioned themselves as the strongest Munster challengers, the epic extra-time Munster final was held up as act I with another to follow.
Neither materialised, of course, as Brian Cody’s Kilkenny, written off along with the rest of Leinster, made it through for one last tilt which fell just short. Even so, we can’t be the only ones wondering if Saturday’s Bons Secours Hospital Cork Premier SFC meeting of Castlehaven and Nemo Rangers in Clonakilty is a preview of what might be further down the line.
Obviously, St Finbarr’s – reigning county champions, beating the Haven in the semi-final – will look to challenge that perspective and so will a few others, but there is form for the Haven and Nemo to joust at the start and finish.
Prior to the 2013 championship season, the clubs had competed in 28 SFC finals but, surprisingly, never at the same time.
When the draw at the end of 2012 had pitted them together in the first round, it might have looked as if such a run would continue.
They had played in the 2012 Kelleher Shield final, Nemo beating an under-strength Haven team preparing for the Munster Club SFC, and the city side also came out on top in the early-season Tadhg Crowley Cup decider, albeit after extra time.
Nemo found their stride quicker and at one stage in the first half they led by six points, Luke Connolly’s goal helping to provide a cushion. While the Haven got back to within three points before half-time, the goal was the difference for much of the second period though Nemo couldn’t pull away sufficiently.
As it was, points from Brian and Stephen Hurley in the final two minutes tied matters at 0-12 to 1-9, necessitating extra time. Even then, though, in the gathering darkness there was still no separating the sides, Brian Hurley’s late free tying matters at the end to set up a replay three weeks later.
Despite being reduced to 14 men in the first half when Dermot Hurley was sent off, the Haven never wilted and with Brian Hurley producing a performance of real class they had enough to advance via the direct route.
Having been called onto the Cork senior panel on the back of excellent U21 performances, he scored 2-5 and set up goals for his brother Michael and Shane Nolan as the Haven won by 4-10 to 1-12, Mark Collins and Seán Dineen excellent in midfield in the second half.
The Haven would push on and reach another county final as Newcestown, St Vincent’s and Carbery were seen off, but Nemo, regrouping to beat St Nicholas, O’Donovan Rossa, Douglas and Bishopstown, did so too.
Nemo led by three points twice in the first ten minutes in Páirc Uí Chaoimh on October 13, but the Haven settled, and while Alan Cronin’s goal made it 1-8 to 0-7 as half-time approached, three Brian Hurley points had the Haven back within the minimum at the break.
Barry O’Driscoll’s free opened the second-half scoring, but Nemo would not manage another point until four minutes from time. Seán Dineen was outstanding at midfield for the Haven while Brian Hurley was on top form and captain Seánie Cahalane also showed up well as they ran out 0-16 to 1-11 winners to retain the title for the first time.
Having never met in a final up to then, the pair clashed in the 2015 and 2020 deciders, Nemo coming out on top both times. Whether or not there is another this year, Saturday’s game should live up to its billing.