BY KIERAN McCARTHY
IT’S teed up perfectly.
Behind-closed-door challenge games that weren’t actually behind closed doors only serve to add another layer to a match that didn’t really need it.
The lengths teams go to win these days means every extra inch is valuable. You do whatever you have to do, it seems.
On its own it’s an attention-grabbing fixture – a Cork senior football championship semi-final between two local rivals, Castlehaven and O’Donovan Rossa, the county boys and the town team. It’s the perfect derby, and when a county final place is up for grabs, it makes it even more interesting.
It’s hard to look past Castlehaven here. They are the champions from 2012 and ’13 who are looking to get back on top of the pile after a poor championship last season. But that early exit to Carbery Rangers in 2014 has done them no harm at all. It gave them the break they needed to recharge the batteries, and they certainly looked like a team on a mission when beating reigning champions Ballincollig (1-14 to 1-11) in a cracking quarter-final.
That was the line in the sand moment when everyone realised that normal service has been resumed, that Haven are the team to beat.
Jim Nolan’s men weren’t overly impressive against either Clyda Rovers or the Barr’s in earlier games, but they have done what’s required so far.
Scoring 4-40 in their three games, the Haven’s scoring threat is no secret, and in the two games he has played (against Clyda and Ballincollig), Brian Hurley has scored 2-13 (0-8 from placed balls).
Michael Hurley (1-3), Stephen Hurley (0-5), Seanie Cahalane (0-5) and Mark Collins (0-5) are all tipping away nicely, but Cork forward Brian, after a bad year on the inter-county front, is still the main score-getter for his club.
The Rossas will have a plan for Brian Hurley. They need to. Yes, there are many match winners in the Haven attack, but Brian Hurley is the number one danger.
Skibb’s defence have coughed up with 1-27 in the last three games, after shipping 2-14 in the first round loss to Bishopstown, and they need to protect their full-back line on Sunday.
Skibb have attacking wing backs in Mark Collins and Daniel Hazel, while Conor McCarthy’s experience and vision is a big factor at centre back.
A big question is can the Skibb backs hold the Castlehaven forwards? But the same can be asked if the Haven backs can hold the Skibb forwards, who have averaged 2-13 in their four championship wins?
Scoring 2-11 (v Bishopstown), 2-15 (v Clonakilty), 2-11 (v Beara) and 2-15 (v Bishopstown) is a scoring return that will give the Castlehaven defence plenty to think about.
Kevin Davis (1-21, 14 frees), Rob Long (2-4), Donal Óg Hodnett (1-9), Dave Shannon (1-8), Thomas Hegarty (1-4) and Paudie Crowley (1-1) have all chipped in, and it’s wide range of scorers that will cause Haven problems. They might keep one or two quiet, but not all.
There is more to come from these Skibb forwards too, even if we are basing this just on the quarter-final win against Bishopstown. Hegarty was a force in the first half mainly, Davis was on the outskirts of the game, Shannon came into it in the last quarter, but they still combined for 1-10.
The Haven have the more well-known forwards, but Skibb don’t lack quality in attack either.
But this is where Haven’s impressive half-back line of Roland Whelton, Damien Cahalane and Chris Hayes come into play. If these three are allowed freedom they will hurt Skibb.
That leads us to the interesting midfield battle where Mark Collins and Sean Dineen might just edge out Donal Óg Hodnett and Sean Carmody. Then again, if tactics come into play, who knows how both teams will use short kick-outs.
Donal Óg is enjoying life out around midfield, as is Mark Collins, and these will be the two best ball players on the field on Sunday. If either of these hits top form they can inspire their team.
Arguments can be made for both teams to win, but you can’t look past Castlehaven. They have the temperament for the big games. They also have the experience. They have proven match winners. And they also have an incentive.
But Skibbereen have nothing to lose. They are unfancied by many. Still, it’s a big ask for a team that was last in a county semi-final in 2012 – when they lost to Duhallow – to knock out a more established force that knows what it takes to win.
It’s also worth pointing out that whichever team can keep check of its emotion the best, and step away from the fact it’s a derby county semi-final, will be better placed.
Of course, it’s a derby but it’s still a football game on a football field with a football, that is asking to be won.
• The last time the clubs met in the Cork SFC was a round four game in 2011 that Castlehaven won 1-11 to 0-11. Bernie Collins got the Haven goal that day while Mark Collins scored 0-4 for the winners.