Seán Óg Ó hAilpín’s departure from the Cork hurling panel has dominated the sports news this week after Dennis Walsh indicated that he would not be included in Cork’s plans for next season. This was a huge decision to make and in one sense I can understand how difficult it must have been for Walsh to make it. There are two schools of thought at play here. Dennis Walsh could have taken the soft option and waited until his time in charge was over, thereby leaving the tough decision to omit the player to the next manager. Nobody would have complained if Seán Óg was kept on the squad to assist with the task of indoctrinating some new faces into a new Cork squad. I do feel he could have done a fine job in this regard.
On the other hand, that would have been a little dishonest to the player, particularly if the manager felt he would not be playing him next year. Walsh has his back room team in place and Ó h’Ailpín is not part of that particular team.
I applaud the manager’s honesty in making this tough call. He would have been aware that Seán Óg’s omission from the Cork scene or his eventual retirement would make headline news. I can also understand why Seán, one of Cork’s all time greats, is feeling a little sorry for himself. Walsh’s decision to leave him out of the panel has denied the player the opportunity to plot his withdrawal from his inter-county career at his time of choosing. Seán Óg has, of course, added to the furore by issuing a statement. He indicated that he was pushed into retirement by the Cork manager.
The manager is obviously looking to the future and it is his prerogative to decide who is in and who is out. It is however because of Ó hAilpín’s unique contribution to Cork hurling and football, his renowned fitness, his and incredible commitment to the Cork GAA scene that Seán Óg is such a popular star. Sport does not always have fairly tale endings and the fact that Seán has been denied the opportunity to draw the curtain down at his time of choosing is just tough. He owes nothing to Cork GAA, but remember, he has had a good run and the GAA scene has been good to him too.
Two points of a difference at the end of this intermediate final might suggest the tightest of margins, but in reality, for all but the opening five minutes of this final and perhaps briefly towards the end, Burrishoole never looked like they were going to win this title. The score line was close enough, but a scoreboard does not always portray the facts of the match just played. Tourmakeady were the more impressive team by far and fully deserved their victory. Burrishoole were on an unbeaten run coming into this game and were viewed by many as strong favourites from early summer. Some teams carry the weight of favouritism lightly, others do not.
Of course I should acknowledge here that Burrishoole were decimated by injuries throughout the season and were forced to start without Liam O’Malley, one of their best and most experienced defenders. Tourmakeady played with wise heads and were smart enough to snuff the threat of a potentially dangerous full forward line by getting lots of players in to defend that danger zone. Jason Doherty, the one Burrishoole player really capable of doing damage, was forced to live off scraps of possession and any time he did manage to get on the ball he was invariably swarmed by the men in black.
On the other hand Tourmakeady were capable of getting quick ball into their pacy forwards, in particular Kevin Dolan, who looked lively throughout. Burrishoole are a young team with a bright future and I believe they will come back more mature and a little wiser from this experience. But on this occasion there was no denying that the men in black were deserving victors. Incidentally James Moran, the Burrishoole midfielder, caught the eye with a towering performance around the pitch and I am sure the watching James Horan would have been impressed too.
The senior final on Sunday
Players from both sides will play with pride and the ferocity of men driven by the responsibility that goes with representing your club on county final day. Both teams will ooze commitment to the cause particularly in light of recent tragic events that hit both communities. I believe that both sides will deliver something special on Sunday. The two Feeneys, Alan and Richard, and Tom Cunniffe all played last weekend in a very impressive performance beating Garrymore to secure promotion to top flight football next year. It cannot have been easy for them but, as we witnessed earlier this summer, Dermot Earley thought the best way to honour his dad was to tog out and play for his county hours after his burial. It is the way Ger and Donal would have wanted it too.
Understandably it is difficult to predict an outcome in the circumstances. Both teams have enhanced their respective reputations by meeting head-on all challengers en route to the final. Ballintubber were particularly impressive in masterminding a well deserved victory over teams with big reputations, particularly Ballina and Shrule Glencorrib in their last two games. So too have Castlebar with an incremental improvement in every game and their victory over Knockmore was particularly impressive. Both sides have young teams sprinkled with a number of players that will surely be involved with the inter-county scene in the near future.
So who will win it? Well there are arguments to be made why both sides should win it. The experience of playing in a county senior final for the first time might prove a little daunting for any team, but that fact is neutralised here as neither team has a player that played in a senior club final before. Physically both sides will be up for the challenge and it is a given that both sides will be well drilled by managers with high reputations in James Horan and Peter Ford.
From a Ballintubber perspective Alan Dillon is the main man and he is capable of masterminding a slick Ballintubber operation if he is afforded the room to shine. But I expect the Castlebar management will have focused all week on ensuring that he is not afforded the platform to do so. If, on the other hand, he does get the space, there is no better man to open up defences as his elusiveness and overall play can often turn ordinariness in something of precise beauty.
The main trump card for Castlebar will be their full forward line and, in particular, the giant Barry Moran. It will be fascinating to see how the Ballintubber defence handles his aerial threat as I suspect the sweeper system used so effectively to date just might not be sufficient to snuff his threat. It should be a fascinating encounter and typically a prediction is difficult. But, as always I refuse to sit on the fence and I am going to suggest a narrow victory for the Mitchells.