Who will win the biggest prize in Cork hurling?
It has long been known as the ‘Little All-Ireland’ such is the appeal of the Cork County Senior Hurling Final and Sunday’s participants Glen Rovers and Midleton have shared the joys of winning and losing the decider in recent years.
Midleton were winners in 2013 when Conor Lehane bagged 2-10, but lost to divisional rivals Imokilly in 2018.
As for Glen Rovers, having lost the 2014 final they savoured the joys of victory in the following two years in 2015 and 2016 ironically East Cork opposition, Sars and Erin’s Own, an omen perhaps. However the pain of defeat was inflicted on them in the last two finals, Imokilly in 2019, and then their age old rivals Blackrock after extra-time in last year’s thriller, played before an attendance of just 200, an eerie atmosphere in the stadium on that cold November afternoon.
At least on Sunday there will be a big crowd in attendance, especially with a very attractive curtain-raiser to draw in the neutrals.
For players Dean Brosnan (Glen Rovers) and Midleton’s Luke O’Farrell, County Final day is special.
Luke “can’t wait really, it’s been few years since we were there but even one or two is bit too long for our club”.
Having knocked out the champions, Luke feels they will have to be as good again if they are to win their eighth title. “No question Glen have been one of the most consistent teams in the championship in recent years, and again this season they showed their qualities by winning very tight games.”
The ace attacker was thrilled with how they performed in their semi-final. “Blackrock are a very good team and if you are a small bit below your best you won’t win and that is the way we approach every game.”
By their own admission Midleton were poor in the loss to Sars, but the transformation since has been easy to explain says Luke. “Well as players we said after that game is was unacceptable and well below the standards we set ourselves and we were the only ones that could change that and I like to think we have done that.”
As for Sunday, Luke is expecting a really good game. “I think there is very little between us, lots of very good players on both sides, small things can always be a factor, but it’s great to playing in the final. The pitch is now in brilliant condition and I am really looking forward to what has the makings of a great game.”
It’s hard to believe that Sunday will be Dean Brosnan’s seventh county final appearance, as it will be for a few other members of the team, his first coming in 2010, and like Luke O’Farrell, he has experienced the joys of winning and despair at losing.
Losing the last two finals doesn’t put added pressure on the team for Sunday Dean says. “The one thing you cannot do is look back, and you cannot change the result. We lost both, but our mantra all year has been the next game and that is how we will approach Sunday’s final.”
It’s been a hectic few weeks and a couple of very tight games, but Dean sees this as a positive: “It shows that the spirit and determination within the group is good especially when Patrick (Horgan) was sent-off in the Imokilly game, we as a team felt we owed him one as he has got this team out of many a tight corner over the years, now it was our turn and we did.”
Again against Sars in the semi-final, underdogs going into the game, but when the chips were down they delivered. “I think winning tight games against Newtownshandrum and Imokilly gave us the confidence, we didn’t panic kept doing the simple things well and in the end got our just reward.”
Dean though is well aware of the challenge that awaits on Sunday: “No question Midleton showed what they are capable of by beating Blackrock and any teams that can score 4-22 are a very good side and we know we will need to be at our very best for 60 minutes if we are to win.”
The ambition and drive for the third medal is as strong as ever. “Winning county titles is what this club is all about and on Sunday along with the rest of the panel, that is what we are going down the Park to do, bring the county back to Blackpool. We know it won’t be easy but we are well prepared and looking forward to the challenge.”
Midleton selector Terence McCarthy like everyone in the club is delighted that they are once again the final. “It’s magnificent for the club and the town itself, the lads showed their qualities by the response to the Sars loss, and then even though written off by everyone, beating Blackrock showed what they are capable of.”
You get the sense from speaking to Terence that the underdogs tag suited them going into the semi-final. “Well being rated fourth of the four teams was strange, but we got over it, won a tight quarter-final against a good Erin’s Own team and then the performance in the semi-final was just special.”
Terence also is fulsome in his praise for the contribution of coach Ben O’Connor. “Ben has been magnificent. Last year we had a six week run in with Ben, this year we had nearly 16 weeks and it is only recently that we had access to the dressing-rooms and that was important. His impact and knowledge are key factors in where we are today.”
Ian Lynam is in his first year as Glen manager but has been involved as coach for the last number of years, and is naturally thrilled that they are back in the final, despite a poor start losing to Douglas.
“Disappointed to lose while at the same time it was not knockout and we had time to regroup. We had a few issues going into that game, had to cancel a few challenge games owing to Covid, but we had a meeting the following morning and it been an upward curve ever since.”
Winning tight games does not surprise him. “Not really, the character in this group of players is top class, I know every time they go out they will play for the full 60 minutes and that is why we won those type of games. They believe in what we are doing and the results show that.”
At various stages in recent games they looked like losing but the message has always been the same, as Ian explains: “get to the last quarter, hang in there, keep doing the basics and we will get there.”
And get there they have and while the’ve lost the last two finals, it’s not an issue. “For others it might be, but for us our job is to try and win on Sunday, that’s our only concern right now.”
Having viewed Midleton’s semi-final win, Ian was impressed. “Very good performance - you could see Ben’s (O’Connor) stamp all over the team. They have excellent young players and of course the experienced lads, so to win on Sunday we will have to be at our very best for the 60 minutes.”
The sides last met in a final back in 1991, in which Midleton ran out easy winners, more recently it’s been honours even with one win each.
Fascinating encounter in prospect
It has the makings of a fascinating encounter such are the quality players on both sides.
Defensively both are well equipped to cope with the opposition attack, Tommy O’Connell, Sean O’Leary Hayes and Cormac Walsh front Midleton goalkeeper Brion Saunderson, while Stephen McDonnell, Brian Moylan and the Downeys Robert and Eoin anchor a Glen defence that behind them have an excellent custodian in team captain Cathal Hickey.
Of the two units Glen’s has been that bit better, fewer goals conceded and from a Midleton perspective the concession of 3-19 in the semi-final might be a concern.
The midfield tussle will be interesting Paul Haughney and Sam Quirke work extremely hard for Midleton and the Glen duo of Adam O’Donovan and Dave Noonan will need to be at their best in this crucial area.
A look at the respective attacks give an indication of what we can expect. Conor Lehane, Luke O’Farrell and Cormac Beausang for the East Cork side, while it is well documented how much Patrick Horgan contributes to the Glen’s cause but the contribution of Dean Brosnan and especially in the last two games Simon Kennefick has been very important.
Very often though some other player can turn up trumps on big days, will that happen on Sunday?
Picking a winner is not easy, as both are coming into the game on the back of unexpected but merited semi-final wins.
Can Midleton do what most teams have failed to do so far, curb Patrick Horgan’s influence on the game, if they can the tie will tilt their way?
However that is easier said than done, equally the Glen defence look better equipped as a unit to curtail Midleton’s attack, and that will certainly put them in a very good position to win their 28th title and in the process deny Midleton their 8th.
In their long and proud history Glen Rovers have never lost three finals in a row, it’s a record they won’t want, and come 5pm on Sunday it’s a record they won’t have. Glen Rovers to win.
Best wishes to Mark Maher from St Finbarr’s, whose father Tony has seven county medals. He will referee his first senior final. The match is live on C103. Glen Rovers face Midleton on Sunday at 3.30pm in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.