MOVING weekend it was billed as, and moving weekend it turned out to be in the Bon Secours Premier Senior Football Championship.
Reigning champions St Finbarr’s, Nemo Rangers, Mallow and Carbery Rangers all secured quarter-final spots. Éire Óg and Carrigaline can’t reach the business end, while Clonakilty, Newcestown, Ballincollig and Douglas can see a glimmer of light poking through the almost fully-closed curtains.
In Croke Park last month we were all bedazzled by the scoring battle between Galway sharp-shooter Shane Walsh and Kerry magician David Clifford. Anyone who missed Brian Hurley versus Luke Connolly last Saturday evening in a sweltering Clonakilty will no doubt have read about it or heard about it since.
Overlooked this year by Cork, Connolly gave an eyebrow-raising performance scoring 2-4, including a superb winning goal in injury time. It will give new Cork manager John Cleary something to think about before the 2023 season. Brian Hurley, on the other side, racked up nine points and was central to Castlehaven dragging themselves back from a six-point early deficit.
This was a cracking club game between two of the pre-season favourites to reach the latter stages of the championship. They could meet again later, but both sides will have learnt a lot about themselves from this game. If you were not up to it, or not fully fit you were found out pretty quickly here. Between them they racked up 2-9 in the opening quarter. It was thrill-a-minute stuff.
Kieran Histon picked up Brian Hurley with Brian Murphy on Michael Hurley. Stephen Cronin sat back at number six to offer cover, allowing Cathal Maguire to drop deep and run at the heart of the Nemo defence to great effect. Nemo kept five forwards up, and backs were trusted to do their job. On the other side Ronan Walsh marked Connolly in the early exchanges before Rory Maguire assumed that mantle while Damian Cahalane picked up Paul Kerrigan at 11. It all led to an open, fast, hard-hitting contest.
After the opening quarter a number of things contrived to Castlehaven finding themselves six points down. Nemo won five Haven kickouts in a row. Then Roland Whelton was black carded. A number of Haven players were struggling for gas, too. To counter, Haven boss James McCarthy introduced fresh legs in the form of Robbie Minihane, Colm O’Driscoll and Kevin O’Donovan, with Minihane in particular making a huge contribution to the comeback. They took control around the middle and hit Nemo hard in the tight exchanges. Nemo lost Stephen Cronin, which made that middle channel even more porous and struggled for an out ball from their own kickout.
Level in injury time, an error or a lapse in concentration was always going to decide this one on a hot evening. That error came from a loose Rory Maguire cross-field pass which Connolly intercepted. A point would probably have won it at the time but instead he drove at the Haven defence with only one thing on his mind – that was to finish the game outright. He did that with a bullet to the corner. Nemo won 3-13 to 1-16. An epic.
The Bandon double header on Sunday was a step down in standard. As warm as the day was it took quite a while for both of these contests to light up. Both the Clon and Newcestown players looked dejected leaving the pitch following a 0-12 to 1-9 draw but knowing that a point would keep them out of the relegation dust-up.
That was until word started to come through that Douglas and Ballincollig had also drawn. It now means that the final round will be even more tempestuous as one of these four will most likely face Carrigaline in the relegation play-off.
Clon were down Sean White and Sean McEvoy while Newcestown had Fionn Keane and David Buckley struggling and Sean O’Donovan sidelined. Gearoid O’Donovan had just returned from America and when introduced at half time he made a big contribution.
Clon were in control early but, as we saw the night before, a black card gave Newcestown a window of opportunity which they took. They were in control of this game for long stages after. Newcestown got control of their own kickout and Eddie Kenneally was pulling the strings up front. Joe Grimes levelled for a finish but Clon will rue a series of late chances that would have secured both points heading into the Nemo tie on September 4th. Both clubs will hope to have a full squad to choose from in two weeks’ time but will be outsiders against the Haven and Nemo.
Carbery Rangers have been waiting for their young guns to start to fire, to speed up the transitional phase that the club is going through. Jack Kevane, Keelan Scannell, Peadar O’Rourke and Jack O’Regan put their shoulders to the wheel on Sunday, guided by the experienced heads of Jerry O’Riordan, Brian Shanahan and John O’Rourke.
Kevane’s second-half man-marking job on Cork midfielder Colm O’Callaghan was central to the Ross victory, as O’Callaghan had ripped the centre of the Ross defence wide open time after time in the first half. Granted, Éire Óg were down a few players but they didn’t show the levels of desire they did last season. They were still dependent on Daniel Goulding up front with only three points coming from the other attackers. It was tit-for-tat for three quarters of an hour until John Hodnett strode onto a booming kick-out from Paul Shanahan, drew a defender and parted to Darragh Hayes, who put the Rangers in control. They were five up in injury time when a late O’Callaghan green flag cut the deficit to two.
The Barr’s look poised for the best group winner spot to go straight through to the semi- finals. Castlehaven look set to take second spot in Group C while any of Valleys, Douglas or Ballincollig could take the second qualifying position in Group B. It’s still all to play for.