O'Leary guiding light
Two of Cork's greatest servants experienced contrasting fortunes at the end of the Cork senior hurling championship final in front of a crowd of 15,000 at Pairc Ui Chaoimh yesterday. For Seanie O'Leary there was the elation and satisfaction of coaching Imokilly, the team representing junior and intermediate clubs in the East Cork division, to their first title. But former dual star Teddy McCarthy had the disappointment of not adding to his impressive medal haul.
O'Leary, the prince of goal poachers in Cork's great team of the 1970s, saw his perseverance pay off as Imokilly finally shrugged aside the frustration of losing last year's final after a replay. McCarthy, on the other hand, is rapidly running out of time in his attempts to add a county championship medal to his All-Ireland collection, which includes two senior medals from the 1990 season when Cork completed the hurling and football double.
McCarthy tried his hardest to assist Sarsfields. He started at centre back, but finished in attack in the closing stages, after Imokilly had pulled away in a glorious sevenminute spell in the final quarter.
The game, played on a difficult heavy surface, was delicately balanced when Pat Ryan's impressive free-taking helped pull Sarsfields to within a point of their opponents (1-12 to 1-11) with 12 minutes to go.
Imokilly, however, had other ideas as they hit six points without reply with Jimmy Smiddy accounting for three, including two from frees, and man of the match Timmy McCarthy, the county under-21 player, notching up two. Sean O'Farrell, another under-21, scored the other.
That spree decided a contest which was competitive and highly charged, typified by five first-half bookings, though the game never looked like boiling over.
Sarsfields kept battling gamely to the end and they managed to secure the last two scores, a point from a Niall Aherne free which was meant to be struck low and their second goal, again from a Ryan free, but the final whistle sounded immediately from the puck-out.
A superb 80-metre free from Ryan in the opening minute gave Sarsfields a bright start, but they trailed by 0-5 to 0-3 at the end of the first quarter and it could have been worse had Philip Cahill not shot over the bar when a goal seemed likely after 15 minutes.
There was still little to choose between the sides entering the closing stages of the half, Imokilly holding a 0-8 to 0-7 advantage with just two minutes left on the clock.
Then the opening goals arrived in quick succession. First, O'Farrell crossed sweetly from near the covered stand at the city end to the unmarked Timmy McCarthy, whose rasping pull gave veteran goalkeeper Tadhg Murphy no chance as the ball flew high into the corner of his net.
Sarsfields surged downfield and were rewarded with a goal, courtesy of a rare mistake by Donal Og Cusack, the youngster poised to take over from Ger Cunningham in the Cork goal. Cusack dropped Ryan's free in the path of Conor O'Leary, who duly dispatched it to the net.
Imokilly's slender 1-8 to 1-7 interval lead highlighted the closeness of the exchanges, though the divisional side hit over the first three points of the second half, before Sarsfields once more replied with the next three scores, including a beauty from John Murphy after 46 minutes.
When Smiddy and Ryan swopped frees in 60 seconds approaching the 50th minute it looked well set up for an intriguing climax until Imokilly found another gear to surge to a belated but richly deserved title.