Pictured ahead of the final are John O’Carroll, Head of Retail at Dairy Gold with Conor O’Brien, Blackrock and Billy Hennessy, St Finbarr’s. Photo: Jim Coughlan.

Old rivals meet in intriguing hurling final

It’s a massive hurling weekend with 3 Co-Op Superstores County Finals down for decision and Páirc Uí Chaoimh will be rocking particularly on Sunday for a fascinating double-header, and all 3 games are live on C103.

Premier Senior Final

St Finbarr’s v Blackrock on Sunday at 4pm

Time was when the ‘Barrs and the ‘Rockies regularly met in county finals; hard to believe then that these two keenest of rivals who between them have won the Sean Óg Murphy Cup on 58 occasions are meeting in the final for the first time in over 40 years.

In fact it is the first time since 1993 when they last won it, that the ‘Barr’s are in the final, while it’s a third in 6 years for the ‘Rockies who were champions in 2020, having lost to Imokilly in 2017.

This will also be the first time that teams from the same group in the Senior Championship will meet in the final.

That win two years ago over their other great rivals Glen Rovers was a strange one, as Stephen Murphy, preparing for his third final explained: “It was somewhat weird, very late in the year and only a very small crowd owing to Covid, an eerie feeling in the big stadium, but at least we won.”

The experience in 2017 was different: “Well we lost which was the main difference,” he says with a smile.

As for Sunday, Stephen is really looking forward to it but has huge respect for the ‘Barr’s. “Without a doubt - they beat us in the group game and the way they have played in the championship has been exciting to watch. They have a lot of very good players and of course the rivalry between both clubs is a healthy one.”

Selector Jamie Harrington agrees it’s been a roller coaster of a campaign. “We could have lost all 3 group games and then the drama of the penalty shoot out against Imokilly, but we very excellent in the semi-final win over a good Erin’s Own and that was pleasing.”

The final is one that excites Jamie: “Look anytime we meet the ‘Barr’s there is very little between us as we saw in the group game, so our job and I am sure they will say the same, get your work done in the preparation and hope that on the day it will all work out, as finals take on a life of their own.”

The impact of Louis Mulqueen cannot be overstated. “He’s been excellent - boundless energy and enthusiasm and to be fair the players have bought into what he brings, we are a new selection committee, we didn’t change a whole lot, but so far so good.”

Ger Cunningham took over the ‘Barr’s team this year on the back of a couple of disappointing years during which they failed to get out of the group, and given that this year’s group contained Sars, Charleville and Sunday’s opponents, the view was they might not emerge from that quartet either.

Ger though was confident: “Well it was going to be tough but we had a number of young players coming on board and they were that bit more experienced with a season under their belts, and to be fair the success of the footballers in recent years was also a help, they have given the club a huge lift.”

Managing the dual players is also key: “Very much so and the co-operation between both has been excellent; we all have the one aim and that is for the club to succeed.”

The key game in the group was the opener against Charleville as Ger explains: “We had limited preparation with the footballers playing a week before, we picked up a few injuries which left us without 3 players, but we got a draw, could have won, but happy as we faced Blackrock.”

Now that was an unusual game; 9 points down early on and yet they won by 1 with a stirring comeback. “The lads were brilliant and it was a great win and they never gave up and things just went on from there and here we are now, really looking forward to Sunday.”

“Blackrock are a very seasoned team, were champions 2 years ago, know how to win and we really will have to be at our very best to win.”

Appearing in their first final in over 30 years has given everyone a huge lift. “It has, the club is alive, County Hurling Final day is a huge occasion so many of our younger members have yet to experience it so the message is embrace it, savour it and hopefully as a team we can give them a day to remember.”

Dual player Jamie Burns is also enjoying the last few weeks even if it has been hectic. “I have been lucky to experience the football wins of the last few years and hopefully along with the other lads, we can use those days to help the younger lads.”

Jamie knows they face a huge test: “They have a lot of very good players, so we know what to expect, but we have prepared well and really looking forward to the game.”

It really is an intriguing final, so many good players on both sides, the ‘Rockies with the experience of winning two years ago, the ‘Barr’s with the desire to end a long wait for their 26th title.

The match ups will be key, the quality in attack for both sides is top class: Connolly, Cotter and Deasy and the O’Keeffes for Blackrock, Twomey, Hayes, Cunningham and the Cahalanes for the ‘Barr’s.

Defensively the ‘Barr's half-back line has been excellent with Ben O’Connor showing his quality with every outing, along with Damien Cahalane and captain Billy Hennessy.

John Cashman, Alan O’Callaghan, Conor O’Brien and Stephen Murphy have been solid and dependable all season while both goalkeepers have excelled.

Gavin Connolly was the hero in the penalty shoot out against Imokilly, while Shane Hurley has hardly put a foot wrong in the campaign to date.

For me, the ‘Barr’s have been the team of the championship coming from a low base to remain unbeaten is exceptional but can they close the deal and win the coveted cup?

The battle for possession in the middle could decide the outcome and here the physicality of Blackrock could be crucial; if the ‘Barr’s can get a grip here, it would certainly limit the supply or at least the quality of it to the Blackrock full-forward line that has been central to their march to the final. They must be held or else they will cause untold damage.

Equally at the other end, the ‘Barr’s forward have the capacity to unhinge any defence.

It’s a very hard one to call, a very slight fancy for Blackrock to shade it, but it might take a 2nd day out.

Premier intermediate Final

Castlemartyr v Inniscarra on Sunday at 2pm

While the Senior Final will command most of the attention, the curtain-raiser is equally attractive and has the makings of a cracking contest.

Castlemarytr are on the hunt for back to back county titles having won the Intermediate title last year and have carried the momentum into this championship and were impressive winners over East Cork rivals Castlelyons in the semi-final.

Inniscarra surprised many by reaching this decider but they have shown in all their games to date that they are a competent and efficient side and the manner in which they saw off a formidable Ballinhassig side in their semi-final is testimony to that.

Sean O’Donoghue, Colm Casey, Owen McCarthy, David O’Keeffe, Liam Ryan and Jack Harrington are big players for them; they are unbeaten to date, but they will need to deliver again if they are to land this title.

Castlemartyr though are strong and balanced all over the field, there is a slight doubt about Brian Lawton as he picked up an injury in the semi-final, his absence would be a blow.

Darragh Moran, Ciaran Joyce, Mike Kelly, Barry Lawton and Joe Stack though look to have enough in hand to guide the East Cork side to another title.

Premier Junior Hurling

Tracton v Ballygiblin on Saturday at 5pm

Just like Castlemarytr, Ballygiblin are hunting another title having been crowned junior champions last year, in fact they also won Munster and came up agonisingly short in the All-Ireland.

Ironically if they win this final, they will compete in the Provincial Junior Championship with an opportunity to retain their title.

Ronan Dwane has them hurling with confidence again and Mark Keane, Fionn Herlihy and Joseph O’Sullivan are maintaining the form that they showed all last season.

For their part Tracton have been impressive in their wins and that was very evident in their thrilling win over a highly rated Kilbrittain side in the semi-final, with Mark O’Sullivan a vital player for them with Ronan Walsh, John Good, Joseph Kingston and Keith Webb offering excellent support.

Ballygiblin have momentum but this is a very good and experienced Tracton side and that might just get them over the line.

Junior Football Championship Quarter-Finals

With the 8 clubs already assured of promotion to the new Premier Junior Grade for next season, the title and a shot at a Munster and possibly an All-Ireland title are up for grabs.

All games are on Saturday at 4pm. St Michaels face Buttevant in Grenagh and the North Cork champions might shade this one.

Enniskeane is the venue for the meeting of Kilmurry and St James with the latter fancied, while Kinsale should be too strong for an Urhan side who are the only team from the Beara Division at this level.

Finally Cobh whose bid for an East Cork double came up short, might find Cullen a tough nut to crack when they meet in Mourneabbey.