The Denis O’Riordan Cup will be contested for the first time on Sunday evening as Imokilly take on Avondhu for a place in the quarter-finals of the Co-op SuperStores Cork Premier SHC (6pm).
Last night, the family of the Valley Rovers stalwart, who died in March of this year, presented the trophy to Cork County Board and it will be presented to the side that wins the divisions and college section each year. Sunday's game will be a repeat of the 1996 county SHC final, won by Avondhu after a replay.
In 2021, Imokilly were the side to emerge from the sub-group, having lost out to UCC the previous year as their three-year reign as county hurling champions came to an end. On Tuesday night, the East Cork side showed that they are hungry to do what they can to get back to the business end of the battle for the Seán Óg Murphy Cup as they saw off MTU Cork on a scoreline of 7-22 to 2-11 at Páirc Uí Rinn.
What makes their annual challenge all the more impressive is the way that they have coped with change caused by age, injuries, transfers and the restructuring of the county championships (meaning that players from the second tier, senior A, are now ineligible) – the team that began against MTU featured just six of the side that started against Glen Rovers the last time they won the county final, in 2019.
After the 26-point win, Imokilly manager Denis Ring acknowledged the good work of his predecessors Fergal Condon and Ciarán Cronin in creating a strong brand and culture and that nature is exemplified by the fact that former Cork star Bill Cooper, who is no longer involved as a player, now operates as one of Ring’s selectors.
Imokilly benefit from the surfeit of quality players in East Cork but, equally, having a high-performing divisional side means that those players improve further – in the past few years, Castlemartyr, Castlelyons, Fr O’Neills and Lisgoold have all played in county finals backboned by players who had impressed in red and white stripes.
They will be favourites but won’t be complacent against an Avondhu side playing their fifth championship game of the year. After beating Carbery, Muskerry and Duhallow to emerge from the preliminary divisional stage, the North Cork side were worthy four-point winners against UCC in Mourneabbey on Wednesday night.
While what had been a seven-point lead at one stage was reduced to just one as the end neared, there was no panic from the men in black and amber and they pushed on again in injury time to make safe their passage to the final.
Having not taken part in the competition since 2019, when they were beaten by Carbery in their only game, this has been a welcome return to form for Joe O’Brien’s side. Captain Mark Keane has been totemic at centre-back, marshalling a strong defence, while the scoring power of Colin O’Brien and Stephen Condon is the garland on a hard-working attacking unit.
They will relish the opportunity but the experience of Imokilly, featuring Séamus Harnedy, Brian Lawton, John Cronin and Michael Russell among others, may be key.