BY DONAL O’SULLIVAN
MAURICE Sexton and the Kilbrittain hurlers are one win away from a county title – and their top scorer feels they are ready to take the next step.
This Saturday evening at 5pm in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Kilbrittain and Lisgoold will battle it out in the final of the Cork Lower Intermediate Hurling Championship. A county title and promotion to the Intermediate A ranks are up for grabs.
Kilbrittain wing forward Sexton, their top scorer this campaign with a tally of 0-29 (including 20f, four 65s), is hoping that they have what it takes to secure silverware on the night and bring a county title back to West Cork.
‘The whole parish is buzzing and it is absolutely brilliant,’ he admits.
‘It’s just brilliant to be back in a county final. It would be huge to get over the line. We’ve probably been starved for success in recent years. I think every adult team needs a kick like this to keep things going in the club. So if we were to win and get promoted, it would just be unbelievable for everyone.’
Their last county final appearance was back in 2010 when they won the Intermediate A championship. Sexton, who contributed 0-4 in that victory, feels that gap is far too long for a club with such a strong tradition of hurling.
‘We won that year and got to a semi-final the following year, I think. We just thought this was always going to be the case and we would drive on. We certainly didn’t think it would take us 11 years to get back there but that’s the nature of sport,’ says the former Cork minor and intermediate hurler.
‘It’s great to be winning and to be looking forward. We have spent long enough looking in the opposite direction so hopefully we can continue the good run.’
Having been the sole West Cork senior hurling representatives back in the mid-1990s, it was never going to be easy when the club were re-graded and found themselves competing in the lower grades. However, the club as a unit has benefitted, he feels.
‘Some people might think that we should be playing at a higher grade but I think that’s based on previous successes. This is a new group of players, some of them are only 18 or 19 years old and they would have no idea of previous campaigns or when we were senior or whatever. This is massive for them as well,’ the experienced Kilbrittain dual player said.
‘Winning games is great and hopefully we can go one step further the next day and get back up to intermediate, which would be huge for the club.’
He describes their semi-final victory, 1-15 to 0-9 over Tracton, as a pivotal moment.
‘I think that’s when people started to realise that we were in with a chance. Maybe before that they assumed we should be beating certain teams but I feel that game was huge. It made it all real and that we were actually back in a final again,’ Sexton said.
In a campaign that saw them top Group A unbeaten, he is under no illusions of the task Jamie Wall’s charges face this weekend against a strong Lisgoold outfit.
‘Funnily enough we played them in a challenge game a few months ago’ he laughs. ‘It was a great game for us and for them as well I’d imagine. I wouldn’t have known much about them but leaving that night I knew just how good they were. It was no surprise they topped what was a very tough group.
‘Obviously it will be a totally different game the next day but all we can do is go out and play our game and see where it takes us. I’m sure Jamie and the lads will have an idea of what they will bring but we’ll be sticking to our own plan like every game’.
Their opening group clash was a local derby victory over Argideen Rangers (0-19 to 0-9) and while the scoreline may indicate a comfortable victory, Sexton admits it was anything but.
‘That was a very tough game with the added bite of a derby. They were all over us for the first 20 minutes and we were just trying to hang in there,’ he recalled. ‘Things went with us and that result was huge. On another day it could have been totally different and we might not have come out of the group.’
Following a more comfortable second-round defeat of Dripsey (2-24 to 0-13), the West Cork outfit knew victory over Grenagh in their final group game would more than likely see them secure an automatic semi-final place. A 1-20 to 0-7 defeat of their Muskerry opponents secured progression and subsequently a four-week gap ahead of their semi-final clash with Tracton. Something their free scoring wing forward felt was difficult to manage.
‘It was a bit daunting at that start. You can’t beat playing games. There is always that worry in the back of your mind that you might miss out on championship game time with that extra round. In saying that, it was nice to go straight to the semi-final, too. We played a few decent challenge games against some teams graded above us so that was definitely a benefit,’ Sexton said.
Similar to last season, the Kilbrittain rearguard has been difficult to break down and they haven’t conceded a goal in the championship (0-38 conceded). However it is up front, where they have amassed an impressive tally of 4-78 to date, that has seen significant improvement. This is something Sexton credits to the management team.
‘It is very similar to last year but we are probably just another year down the road. I think we have just progressed the plan a little,’ he said. ‘We had the framework in place from last year and it was just a case of progressing it. You won’t win games or championships if you aren’t scoring,’ said their scorer-in-chief.
Sexton’s thoroughly enjoying his hurling at the moment and that, he admits, is testament to the group as a whole.
‘There is an unbelievable bunch there, from players to management and the back room team. Everyone is involved and enjoying it. There is just a great mix there, both young and old, and when that is the case, it’s just much more enjoyable.’