Imokilly hurlers recall senior county success 25 years on 

With Seanie O'Leary on the sideline and a host of future All-Ireland winners with Cork on the pitch, the division beat Sars at Páirc Uí Chaoimh
Imokilly hurlers recall senior county success 25 years on 

Imokilly midfielder Mick Daly in full flight while being tackled by Sarsfields' Tadhg Óg Lynch with Conor McCarthy closing in. Picture: Des Barry

IT'S 25 years ago today, October 5, 1997, Imokilly were crowned county senior hurling champions for the very first time. 

Their team of stars defeated Sarsfield's by 1-18 to 2-12 to joyously banish the memory of their final day defeat to Avondhu just 12 months earlier.

This Friday evening the majority of the victorious panel will reconvene at Youghal GAA Club for a nostalgic night of reflection on a golden era that also saw the team retain the title in 1998 with victory over Blackrock. 

Then on Sunday week, the players will again have the honour of walking onto the Páirc Uí Chaoimh on county final day as they will be introduced as the jubilee team.

Imokilly had impressed on the way to the 1997 final defeating UCC in the last eight by 2-20 to 0-13 and then accounting for St Finbarr's by 0-17 to 1-9 in the semi-final. 

Opponents Sars reached the decider after edging out Blackrock by 1-10 to 0-12 in a low-scoring second semi-final.

On a county final day, there was a real expectancy in the east of the county as the pairing was somewhat of a novel one. 

Imokilly captain Brian O'Driscoll. Picture: Des Barry
Imokilly captain Brian O'Driscoll. Picture: Des Barry

As it transpired Imokilly, in front of a crowd of 15,158 spectators, were just that little bit better than their opponents and few argued with their right to be crowned champions. 

Free-taker Jimmy Smiddy finished the campaign as his side's leading scorer with 0-22 but it was current Cork manager Pat Ryan that was the overall chart-topper as he posted a highly impressive 1-47.

Imokilly's captain on the day hailed from the far east of barony, as Knockadoon native Brian O'Driscoll of Fr O'Neill's was at the helm of a team managed by the late great Seanie O'Leary.

"It does not feel like 25 years ago. They are great memories" 

He recalls some of the people involved and in particular, the part played by the late Seanie O'Leary.

Seanie was huge. He was one of the main components that made it happen, a phenomenal character inside in the dressing room. 

"He rarely raised his voice. We knew he was the biggest dog in the park, but he never had to bark.

"He had an ability to grow our confidence. Seanie would say to just go out and be competitive, put yourself in the frame with a chance and then see what will happen towards the end, it took the pressure off us. 

"We all would really like to acknowledge Seanie for the time he gave us back then and also his wife Geraldine and family for affording him the time away from home. 

"There was a great dynamic between the management group as well which fed into the players" 

Maurice Conway, Daithi Cooney, Anthony Cashman and Anthony O'Reagan were the other selectors.

"Another main driver for winning at the time I felt was the ability and willingness of each individual player to take full responsibility for his own personal performance on the day. 

"All the lads in that group were really big-game players! The bigger the occasion the more they seemed to enjoy and relish the challenge. Overall, the hurling standard was very high in Imokilly at the time. 

Imokilly's Jimmy Smiddy.
Imokilly's Jimmy Smiddy.

"Every guy in the squad was trying to push their own club and lift the level. It helped Imokilly because at the time a lot of these clubs were close to reaching finals. 

"There were different matchups when guys with Imokilly met one another in club games and it raised the profile of these matches."

As for the match, Brian's reflections are of a close contest.

"There was not a lot in it most of the way. We were a point up at halftime - after Timmy McCarthy's goal and then it was close for most of the second half. 

"Sar's got a late goal towards the end, but we still had a three points lead at the final whistle.

No way out of defence for Sarsfields' Teddy McCarthy against Mick Daly. Picture: Des Barry
No way out of defence for Sarsfields' Teddy McCarthy against Mick Daly. Picture: Des Barry

"Looking back, there was a ferocious determination by our guys to get it done, having lost to Avondu in 1996. We never got overexcited, there was a calmness about us that we had to deliver in 1997."

IMOKILLY 1997

D Óg Cusack (Cloyne); 

W O'Riordan (Castlelyons), S Barrett (Carrigtwohill), B O'Driscoll (Fr O'Neill's); 

M Landers (Killeagh), M Cahill (Cloyne), D O'Sullivan (Cloyne);

D Barrett (Cobh), R Dwane (Aghada);

T McCarthy (Castlelyons), M Daly (Cobh), M Downing (Youghal); 

P Cahill (Cloyne), S O'Farrell (Carrigtowhill), J Smiddy (Castlemartyr).

Subs used: B Coleman (Youghal), D Irwin (Killeagh).

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