WILL it be the full-blown saints or the bishop waiting to become a saint who will bring home the Mick McCarthy Cup from Dunmanway on Thursday night as the Bandon Co-op junior A football final should draw a large crowd to the Sam Maguire Park.
While both St Mary’s and Tadhg MacCárthaigh have been rated among the top teams in the championship for the past decade, the Caheragh men have not won the title since 2012, while the Ballineen/Enniskeane men have waited since 2014 to collect the cup again. This is the first time the teams have clashed in the final.
St Mary’s only qualified for the final last Saturday with a semi-final win over Clonakilty and their attention of late has been on hurling as they were involved in the junior A final against Ballinascarthy on Sunday 24th, a game they lost by 0-22 to 0-14. They had to switch their attention very fast to football, which they did very well.
‘We have a strong panel and once we got four or five points up, it was difficult for Clon to come back,’ said manager and coach Conor Condon after the semi-final win over Clon.
‘No, the players are not tired after the hurling, they’re fine. Playing regular games is vital and we don’t have training sessions as much as recovery sessions. That’s the way the tight season seems to be going and you don’t have time to dwell on defeats. It’s straight into the next game and that’s a good thing. Now it’s straight into the West Cork final on Thursday night.’
Mary’s campaign to date has been very impressive despite their busy schedule. In Round 1 they faced reigning champions, Kilmacabea and looked to be in trouble as they trailed by two points deep into injury time, despite having led by 1-7 to 0-5 at half time. A Brian McCarthy penalty in the 69th minute gave battling Mary’s a 2-10 to 1-12 victory and one had a feeling that evening that their name might be written on the cup for 2021.
Neighbours Newcestown were well beaten in round three, 2-15 to 0-10, and in the quarter-final, they were again impressive when overcoming a promising Barryroe by 2-12 to 1-8. Worries that their hurling exploits might affect their football fortunes were dispelled in the semi-final when they beat Clonakilty by 0-15 to 0-6, doing most of the scoring in the early minutes and the third quarter.
What we will witness in this final is a clash in styles. Mary’s like to break fast from defence and get the ball to their dangerous inside forwards a quickly as possible, while Tadhg MacCárthaigh favour the slower, possession type play, building their attacks patiently. Now and again, they use Brian or Kevin O’Driscoll to break quickly through the centre and this can be very effective. While MacCárthaigh are a very well-organised side, St Mary’s are more spontaneous, often playing off the cuff, with the players showing a great sense of freedom and abandon in their play. It’s great to watch but will the organised Caheragh approach blunt the Marys’ spontaneity? With heavy conditions prevailing at the moment following the recent heavy rains, which style will suit the heavy going best?
Both sides have a backbone of experienced players to call upon, all of whom have medals in their pockets from their last successes, with Tadhg MacCárthaigh probably featuring more young players who are still in the learning mode.
The St Marys’ defence is backboned by converted strong full back Peter Daly and centre back Billy O’Brien. Outstanding wing back Dylan Scannell was injured in the hurling final but made a late appearance against Clon and should be fit for the final. With his brother Ryan and O’Brien, Mary’s have a very strong half-back line. They also have Stephen Keohane, the former Carbery player, to fill in a defensive position or push up to the forwards.
Tadhg MacCárthaigh’s defence works as a unit, well-marshalled by sweeper Colm O’Driscoll, with Shane Fitzgerald and Dan Kingston epitomising the non-stop work of all six backs.
The St Marys’ attack has top-class players in all positions with Darren O’Donovan, Niall Kelleher and Brian McCarthy leading the charge. Veteran Chris Daly, has also been used to good effect, while Mícheál O’Driscoll, Brian Everard and Jason Collins all possess great pace and work rate.
The Caheragh attack has a real ace in Paddy Burke when it comes to kicking points, while Charlie McCarthy and Gavin O’Neill are no slouches. But the real find of the year for Tadhg MacCarthaigh has been young Eugene Daly at full forward. His goal-scoring exploits are MacCárthaigh’s most lethal weapon and he has five goals to his name already in the championship. Mary’s will do well to keep a sharp eye on him in this final.
With two evenly-balanced teams in opposition, and both goalkeepers, Brian Corcoran and Brendan Herlihy, more than capable between the posts, this final could be decided in the middle third of the pitch. Four really good footballers man the midfield positions and in the semi-finals, Brian O’Driscoll and Rory O’Connor gave man-of-the match performances. O’Driscoll has been back to his very best in this campaign, while O’Connor is one of the most consistent footballers in West Cork. O’Driscoll will be joined by his brother Kevin, the experienced Cork footballer, while O’Connor will have long-serving Cillian McGillicuddy as his partner. The battle between these two pairs could be the deciding battle on the night.
To date, St Mary’s have scored 6-52 in four games, while conceding 2-36, that’s an average 1- 14 to 0-10. Tadhg MacCárthaigh have scored 6-42, while conceding 1-32, that’s an average of 1-12 to 0-9. What the stats show are that both sides are very defence minded, Mary’s conceding only two goals in four games and MacCárthaighs doing even better, conceding only one. A goal for either side could have a big bearing on the outcome. While Mary’s have averaged 14 points per game, and MacCárthaigh’s 12, it has been noticeable that Mary’s have a better spread of scorers in their forward division and this, too, could prove decisive.
Supporters attending the game are asked to follow the stewards as regards parking as no parking will be allowed on the sides of the roads because of night-time parking. Supporters from the west will be able to use the secondary school grounds, while supporters from the east may use the hotel and factory spaces.
Admittance fee will be taken at the gate of the pitch and following the game, supporters are asked to stay off the pitch, because of Covid and pitch regulations. The game must be played to a conclusion, including extra time and penalties, because the winner will be representing the division in the county quarter final on Sunday, against South-east winners, Ballinhassig. The presentation of the Mick McCarthy Cup will take place at the entrance gate to the pitch, with the supporters staying on the hill nearby. Patrons are also asked to wear masks and observe social distancing.