BY DENIS HURLEY
IT’S a tired old cliché to say that a game could turn out to be a cracker, but forgive us for feeling that the Carbery Rangers-Avondhu SFC semi-final in Páirc Uí Rinn on Sunday, at 2.15pm, is ripe with potential.
In five games so far, the North Cork division have scored a total of 9-74 or 101 points, an average of 20.2, and conceding just over 11 and a half points per game. While Carbery Rangers’ totals aren’t as impressive (16.6 for and 12.3 against), the sample size is smaller, with the Rosscarbery club’s bye to the quarter-final meaning that they have had just three outings.
It’s so long ago now – nearly five months – that it’s easy to forget that Avondhu have actually lost a game, going down by 2-6 to 0-11 against Valley Rovers thanks to Hughie O’Donovan’s late goal for the Innishannon side. Valleys have since exited the championship, going down by 1-11 to 0-6 against Ross a fortnight ago – it’s probably too easy to draw the dots and say that Ronan McCarthy’s side will be successful Sunday as a result, but it’s not completely invalid either.
That said, the Valleys defeat on a wet Sunday night is the outlier among Avondhu’s games, as otherwise they have improved game-on-game, culminating with the highly fluid display which saw off a strong Duhallow in the quarter-final.
Colm O’Neill can be unmarkable on his day, as we know, but Avondhu benefit from having Fermoy’s Ruairí O’Hagan to take the scoring weight off the Ballyclough man’s shoulders – both kicked seven points against Newcestown, for instance.
In Mikie Sheehan, Pádraig de Róiste and Ryan Harkin, they have tireless runners, while David Pyne has been very consistent at midfield throughout the championship. Few other teams in the championship can call on two Cork defenders as Martin Crummy’s side can, with James Loughrey and Tomás Clancy so central to their progress.
There is little doubting, though, that Sunday in Páirc Uí Rinn will present their biggest obstacle to date, against a team for whom the semi-finals are nothing new. What is striking is how Ross have such depth to their squad – Kevin MacMahon, Declan Hayes, Seamus Hayes and John O’Rourke have all been absent at different times but the losses have been soaked up. In the last game, they had the luxury of being able to introduce current and former senior inter-county players in Tipperary’s Robbie Kiely and MacMahon.
The John and Seamus Hayes axis in the inside line (they are nominally joined by someone who’ll play anywhere but corner-forward – Declan Hayes perfected the role but John O’Rourke and Padraig Hodnett have done it this year) provides enough for opponents to think about and what was often regarded as a soft centre in defence in the past has been gilded with steel to make passage more difficult.
At midfield, Pyne and Eoin Stanton or de Róiste will find that James Fitzpatrick and Michael Mennis (or Kevin MacMahon) will yield little, and the impressiveness of that Ross tandem could end up being the key to victory, and a second final appearance in two years.