BY DENIS HURLEY
HAVING won the county JAFC last year to return to intermediate level for the first time since 1993, there might have been a general expectation that Bandon’s hurling would suffer this year.
Establishing themselves in the IFC was obviously an aim but few could have expected that a return to form n the premier intermediate hurling championship would go hand-in-hand with maintaining the good football run.
They have managed to successfully balance commitments in both, of course, and the PIHC decider against Fermoy awaits this Sunday at 2pm in Páirc Uí Rinn. It’s hardly surprising too that star Lilywhite attacker Mark Sugrue cites the beginning of the hurling campaign as the key point.
Pitted against Charleville – last year’s runaway IHC winners – in the first round, Bandon found themselves trailing by four points at half-time but Sugrue’s goal on the resumption was a tonic and, with extra time required, Ronan Crowley’s influence told as they won by seven points.
‘Our first-round game against Charleville was crucial,’ Sugrue says.
‘Everyone seemed to have written us off beforehand but the intensity we brought to the second half of that game really set the tone for the year.’
With the intermediate football final to come against Rockchapel on Sunday week, Bandon are riding the crest of a wave, with no ill-effects from the extra commitments involved after last year’s JAFC win.
‘It hasn’t been hard at all this year,’ Sugrue says.
‘Both sets of management have been communicating well all year and seemed to have managed all the players’ trainings/recovery well.
‘Winning the JAFC last year has been massive for us as a group. The fact that we are playing football at a higher level this year has also helped us on the hurling field.
‘We seemed to have taken the same approach as always throughout this year, trying to divide the hurling and football 50-50 as best we can.’
As Sugrue says, a big part in striking that balance is the role played by the two management teams, with Niall O’Halloran in charge of the hurlers and Colm Aherne guiding the footballers’ fortunes.
The Coláiste Chríost Rí teacher acknowledges the important role played by the hurling selectors.
‘The four lads [O’Halloran, Paddy Cahalane, Niall Geary and Don McCarthy] have been superb with us all year,’ he says.
‘They all seem to bring something different to the table whether it be training, giving advice or motivating the team.’
In last year’s JAFC final against Uibh Laoire, Sugrue scored 3-4 as Bandon emerged victorious. Having played U21 and intermediate for Cork, he draws attention from opponents but Bandon’s wealth of options in attack means that others are often to the fore.
‘I wouldn’t say I’m under any pressure at all,’ he says, ‘it really is all about the team in Bandon, we don’t depend on two or three players to win us games week-in, week-out.
‘Ronan Crowley has been flying it for us over the past few games, to be fair, but so have the rest of our forwards, Darren Crowley, Jason Hickey, Cian O’Mahony and Adam Murphy.
‘Of course, everyone was delighted to get Mike (Cahalane) back into our panel halfway through the year, and it was a great boost for the team.’
It’s all adding up to a potent mix, one which could bring senior hurling back to the club for the first time since 1980. Fermoy won’t present an easy challenge, though.
‘It would be unreal to be playing against the top teams in Cork,’ Sugrue says, ‘but Fermoy are a great team and are also flying it in the football championship.
‘We will have to be at our best to even compete with them on Sunday.’