Rory Maguire of Castlehaven reacts after a missed goal chance during the AIB GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Club Championship SF against St Brigid’s of Roscommon at FBD Semple Stadium. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Three Cork clubs heading for Croke Park

It’s the 2nd week in January and a big one for 3 Cork clubs as they prepare for AIB All-Ireland finals - St Catherine’s and Castlelyons in hurling and Cill Na Martra in football. It would be some achievement if all 3 could land the titles! All 3 games will have full live commentary on C103

Junior Hurling Final

St Catherine’s v Tulloghrer-Rosbercon in Croke Park on Saturday at 5pm

A Cork v Kilkenny hurling final is always special and when it’s in HQ it adds that bit extra, as St Catherine’s bid to keep the title on Leeside following Ballygiblin’s win last season.

It is to Catherine’s immense credit that they put their county final loss behind them, and here they are just 60 minutes away from been crowned All-Ireland champions.

Manager Denis Walsh has nothing but praise for the players: “Absolutely immense - they and indeed we all could have felt sorry for ourselves after losing to Erin’s Own, but we all knuckled down and got on with it, I suppose instead of waiting until this years (2024) championship, we had an opportunity to show that we were better than we were in the county final.”

The big one was the Munster QF, a potentially difficult encounter in Walsh Park against Ardmore and a few injuries to contend with.

However their response that day set the trend, according to Denis. “It was a tricky looking game as they were very experienced and we had a lot of young players, several under 21s and a few playing Harty Cup, but we won and it took off from there.”

The Munster title was a tough contest against Limerick side Feenagh-Kilmeedy where they had to dig deep to record a 2-14 to 1-15 win.

Easkey from Sligo, whom Ballygiblin beat in last year’s final, provided the opposition in the All-Ireland semi-final and once again a tight contest ensued before they got over the line, a trait that is pleasing Denis.

“The lads never give up and that is brilliant for us on the line, we know they are going to keep going until the very end and you cannot ask for much more.”

As for the final, Denis has played against Kilkenny often enough to know this will be a step up. “No question that they have some very good players and remember all 3 clubs from Kilkenny are in the finals; that is a measure of the quality of club hurling there, but we are happy where we are and really looking forward to the game and it has done wonders for our club to be playing in an All-Ireland Final in Croke Park. It doesn’t get much bigger.”

Denis is also happy with their preparation, “At this time of the year we are battling a few niggles, lads in college, even Shane Cotter is flying home from San Francisco, but all going well and can’t wait for Saturday now really.”

Tullogher eased through the Leinster championship and then comfortably accounted for Castleblayney in the All-Ireland semi-final. Walter Walsh who actually played in the final at 16 is their main man now actually playing alongside pupils he is teaching in the day job.

Conor Hennessy, Cian O’Donoghue, Marty Murphy, Jamie Lyng, Davy Walsh, Pat Hartley, Lar Murphy, and Conor Hennessy all played important roles in their march to the final.

St Catherine’s themselves have a nice balanced team. Eoin Davis is an excellent goalkeeper, while Eoin Condon, Sean O’Donoghue, Shane Cotter, Kyle Wallace, Kevin Barry and the Mulcahy brothers have shown their quality all year.

A solid 60 minutes is required and if they can contain Walter Walsh, they are well capable of lifting the title, but as we all know there is nothing easy against when facing Kilkenny opposition.

Intermediate Hurling Final

Castlelyons v Thomastown on Saturday in Croke Park at 7pm

Unlike their East Cork neighbours, Castlelyons came into the club championship as Cork champions and having been on the wrong end of a few final defeats, they made no secret of their desire to go the distance at both provincial and national level.

Again it’s a Kilkenny club providing the opposition and a testing 60 minutes awaits, and they have had a few already this campaign.

It took extra-time to win the Munster semi-final in Kerry, and then the drama of the final in fog shrouded Gaelic Grounds, but they got the job done.

Similarly they had a cracking semi-final against Tooreen from Mayo winning in the end by 1-12 to 0-13.

Thomastown had a comfortable Leinster Final win over Bray Emmetts and then easily accounted for Setanta in the semi-final racking up big scores in both games, so the Castlelyons defence will certainly need to be at their best.

It is to their credit that they are in the final, having lost 3 county finals in 4 years. Stephen Donnelly is their captain, he scored 1-8 from play in the county final. Thomas O’Hanrahan, Jonjo Farrell, Davey Pender, Richie O’Hara, Luke Connelan, Robbie Donnelly and Ned Kirwan anchor a side that are back in HQ having won the Junior Final against Fullen Gales in 2013.

Niall O’Leary has been a key figure in the Castlelyons defence all season, especially in the latter stages of the win over Crotta O’Neills. They were nine points down during that game, and the Cork star has said winning the county has given them huge confidence.

“Having lost a couple of finals, winning this year was brilliant and on the back of that we decided as a group to try and go the distance in Munster and beyond. Obviously we have never been here before, and we might get the chance again, and now here we are.”

Like St Catherines, the win has galvanised the whole area: “Everyone is behind us, everywhere you go there’s flags and bunting and the final is all everyone is talking about.”

Along with Colm Spillane and Barry Murphy, Niall has played in Croke Park with Cork. “It’s every player’s wish to play there and to do it with your club is extra special, for all that we have to concentrate on the game and looking at the scores Thomastown have racked up, it’s going to take our very best performance of the year to win, and hopefully we can do just that.”

There is a lot of quality in the team. Anthony Spillane commuting from Dubai has been superb - 3 goals in the Munster final is testament to that. Alan Fenton, Gearoid Barry, Colm Barry, Keith O’Leary, Leon Doocey and David Morrison have delivered when need most.

It has the makings of an intriguing encounter and as Niall O’Leary said: “it will need our best display of the season to win”. Anything less will not be good enough.

Intermediate Football Final

Cill Na Martra v St Pats Cullyhanna on Sunday in Croke Park at 3.30pm

In contrast to Cork’s record in the junior and intermediate hurling championships, the record in football is not good. In fact it’s poor, the most recent win was by Knocknagree in the junior final of 2018, but the Gaelthacht side will be hoping to add their name to the list of winners.

Just like the hurling clubs, it’s been a dramatic few weeks for the John Evans trained side, but in similar fashion they have got over the line. A week ago it was by a single point in their win over the Roscommon champions St Kevin’s.

The key game was the Munster semi-final and by getting the better of the Kerry champions Milltown-Castlemaine, they had done something few Cork clubs have achieved in recent years.

Gearoid Ó Goillidhe has said the run to Croke Park has galvanised the parish. “It’s a football mad place anyway but this is something we have never seen before and I am sure there will be nobody in the area on Sunday. The level of support we are getting is incredible and that has been a factor in helping us win the tight games.”

And they didn’t come much tighter than last Saturday in Portlaoise. “A nerve wracking last few minutes, we looked in control after the 2 quick goals but in the end we were glad to hear the final whistle - relief really.”

With the Armagh champions up next Gearoid said: “Well we don’t know a lot about them really, our focus was on the semi-final, but football in Ulster is always strong, (Ulster clubs will contest all 3 finals), but we will get some work done on them and prepare as best we can.”

St Pat’s were narrow winners over Allenwood from Kildare in their semi-final. 1-11 to 0-11 it finished with Jason Duffy, Ross Mc Qulligan, Sean Connell, Aiden Nugent and Gary Mackin big players for the Ulster champions.

Cill Na Martra have big players in Danno Dineen, Michael Desmond, Tadgh Ó Corcora, Sean Ó Forreidh, Maidhci Ó Duinnin, Colm Mac Lochlainn and Damien Ó hUrdail.

One area that might be a concern is their tendency to pick up cards of all colours - yellow, black and red.

It’s a hard game to call, how will both side recover and react to playing a semi-final and final in the space of 7 days will be key.

Cill Na Martra have been dogged and determined all year, one more determined effort on Sunday could lead them to All-Ireland glory.

All 3 games are live on C103, best of luck to all. Now wouldn’t it be some start to the year if the 3 cups were heading back down the road on Sunday?

Munster competitions

Both Cork teams are in action on Sunday. The footballers on the back of their win over Clare should be too strong for Waterford in Mallow at 2pm and the expected victory will set up a McGrath Cup Final against Kerry on 19.

The hurlers face 2 games in 4 days following the postponement of last Sunday’s clash with Limerick. That is now refixed for Mick Neville Park Rathkeale next Wednesday 17 at 7pm. On Sunday, Clare are the visitors to Páirc Uí Rinn for a 2pm start and no doubt Pat Ryan will be giving game time to a lot of players.

3 Cork schools will be playing in the quarter-finals of the Corn Uí Mhuiri on Wednesday next. St Francis Rochestown v Mercy Mounthawk Tralee, Patrician Academy Mallow v Colaiste Na Sceilge, St Brendan’s Killarney v Clonakilty CC, with times and venues to be confirmed later in the week.

Commiserations to Castlehaven whose brave effort to reach a first All-Ireland club final came up just short in Thurles last Sunday. Had Rory Maguire’s effort gone in rather than thunder back off the crossbar, the outcome could have been so different. They can be very proud of their season and ending as county and Munster champions is something they will cherish and shorten the winter for a passionate club.