HONESTY is always the best policy – otherwise, there’s a chance you’ll end up as President of the United States of America – so I’ll start with an admission that I didn’t think Castlehaven would end up claiming the one automatic semi-final spot in the Bons Secours Hospital Cork Premier SFC this year.
Nemo Rangers had a scoring-difference of 23, St Finbarr’s were on 19 and the Haven were on 11, having beaten Carbery Rangers by five points and Newcestown by six. With no offence intended to the men from Castletownshend and Union Hall, it seemed unlikely that they would overhaul both, even allowing for the fact that Douglas, who played Nemo, and Clonakilty, who clashed with the Barrs, still had a chance to qualify for the knockout stages.
As it turned out, neither city side was able to run up a big score, each winning by four points to move to 27 and 23 respectively. Meanwhile, in Ballydehob, the Haven triumphed by 4-19 to 2-4, the 21-point victory leaving them with a scoring difference of 32 and top seeding. I probably wasn’t the only person expecting one of the southside giants to be advancing to the last four but if there’s any making it up to the Haven required, hopefully Larry Tompkins’ new book (out now in all good bookshops and some bad ones) will do that.
It’s interesting to note that Nemo are still the competition favourites, rated as 5/4 shots compared to 2/1 for the Haven despite being a game further from glory – three compared to two. That won’t bother anybody of a blue and white persuasion, though. For the record, the Barrs are 4/1 with Duhallow 15/2, Valley Rovers 14/1 and Ballincollig and Newcestown 25/1 each.
How do the Haven compare with the competition, though? Since losing to Nemo after a replay in the 2015 final, this is their semi-final appearance, which is probably fewer than what most would have expected back then.
Because the marquee players – Damien Cahalane, Mark Collins, Brian Hurley and Michael Hurley – are the same, there may perhaps be a tendency to think that the Haven starting 15 has remained largely unchanged in the half-decade since. However, the side that took to the field on Sunday had just seven in common with that of the 2015 final replay: the four mentioned above along with John O’Regan, Roland Whelton and Conor Cahalane.
On Sunday, they had eight different scorers, all the more impressive considering the fact that Michael Hurley wasn’t one of those. The drawback of being a ‘name’ is that you’re going to be tightly marked – Hurley found similar against Newcestown although he snaffled a late goal then – but the flipside is that space will be created elsewhere.
Would, for instance, St Finbarr’s cope with Steven Sherlock being held scoreless? Nemo might manage a Luke Connolly off-day if Paul Kerrigan or Mark Cronin picked up the scoring slack and there’s no doubting the Haven scoring power either – captain Mark Collins has had a towering championship so far, doing his main job at midfield and getting forward for scores, while Brian Hurley is bubbling up nicely. In addition, Conor Cahalane got three points against Ilen and is a hugely influential presence in the half-forward line.
Conor O’Driscoll and Cathal Maguire can’t be ignored by a defence either, and if reinforcements are required, they have Jack Cahalane or Darragh Cahalane to come off the bench.
At the other end of the field, Maguire’s brother Rory and Ronan Walsh have stepped into the half-back line with minimum fuss, ahead of Anthony Seymour in goal. The All-Ireland U21 winner from 2009 had to bide his time before replacing Paudie Hurley, but has done so admirably. In the half-back line, David McCarthy has shown himself to be just as good at football as he is at rugby, while Ciarán O’Sullivan and Jamie Walsh have become integral members of the team, too.
But for a couple of strokes of luck, the majority of the new cohort would have played in a county final in 2018, the Haven losing out to Duhallow after a three-game semi-final saga.
This time round, it will be the Barrs or Newcestown, with whom they are already acquainted.
Neither would be easy, for a variety of reasons. But then neither would relish facing a well-rested Haven, either.