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'We're still representing our club and county so you're not going to give it a half-assed attempt'

Conor Lehane’s Midleton lost the Cork SHC final but will represent the county in the Munster club championship.

AFTER LOSING THE Cork SHC final to Imokilly, the last thing Conor Lehane and his Midleton team-mates wanted to do was return to training the following week. 

AIB GAA All-Ireland Club Championship Launch Midleton and Cork hurler Conor Lehane at the launch of the AIB Camogie and Club Championships. This is AIB’s 28th year sponsoring the AIB GAA Football, Hurling and their 6th year sponsoring the Camogie Club Championships. Source: SPORTSFILE

Imokilly were convincing 4-19 to 1-18 victors last Sunday week, but as the winners are divisional side, Midleton must represent Cork in the Munster club championship. 

That meant they had a few days to digest the defeat before preparations began for a showdown against Waterford heavyweights Ballygunner.

“It’s strange alright,” admits Lehane. “The first few days after the final you wouldn’t even be thinking about it. You’d be in no form to even talk about it. 

But as the week went on and we stopped going out and stuff we regrouped and kind of said, look, we’re there anyway, that’s the situation we’re in and we’re still representing Cork and it’s great to be still hurling at this time of the year, we haven’t done that in a long time.

He continues: “So it wasn’t long before we started getting up for it again when we realised the position we were in and we decided not to take it for granted.  We got back training and it was as if we never stopped after the final. It was good to get back into that mentality. 

Obviously, the few days afterwards you weren’t going to be doing anything. You’re kind of getting over the loss, it’s still in your head, but once we got back out on the pitch and pucking around and stuff we got back into a rhythm without having to say anything. 

“We had a chat after and everyone was game-ball again, which was great. I didn’t think it would be that quick. Just to see everyone’s response was brilliant. It’s very encouraging going forward to the match. 

“I was only thinking there after the final, that once things stopped you’d nearly half miss it. At the end of a long year once it’s over there’s a small bit of relief there as well because you’ve a bit of time to yourself and you can go off on holidays or have a few days off here and there. 

Conor Lehane Lehane won his third Munster medal with Cork this summer. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“But once you’re in that rhythm of every two weeks and training and once it stops there’s nearly an itch. Taking a rest is important, but it’s not often you get an opportunity to keep playing. You can’t be taking it for granted.”

Blackrock found themselves in the same boat as Midleton last year. They lost the Cork decider to Imokilly and found themselves on the receiving end of a 22-point pasting to eventual Munster champions and All-Ireland finalists Na Piarsaigh in the provincial semi-final.

The task isn’t much easier for Midleton, who’ve been paired with five-in-a-row Deise champions Ballygunner in Sunday’s Munster quarter-final. 

“They’ve won five in a row in Waterford and they’re such a strong side. Even outside of their county players they’re a very strong side.

“They’re itching for the Munster, I’d say. They’ve been involved in the Munster championship the last four years in a row so they’ll be gunning for it.  That’s none of our concern, that’s their own thing. 

“It’s really just entirely up to ourselves, the attitude we’re going to decide on. Luke, our captain, was saying that we don’t disrespect the year we had by saying, ‘Ah, look, we’re not even meant to be here so go off and play and just see what happens.’

We’re going over there to play the same way we’ve been playing all year for our club so that shouldn’t change. We’re still representing our club and the county so you’re not going to go out there and give it a half-assed attempt.”

Imokilly, the back-to-back Cork champions, comprise of non-senior clubs in the east of the county, boasting star names like Seamus Harnedy, Colm Spillane and Bill Cooper in their ranks.

Lehane has no issue with divisional sides competing in the Cork SHC, although many in the county are unhappy with it.  

“I always said that when you’re a club and you’re playing against a division you’d always be thinking that realistically it’s going to be hard to justify it. I always think though that people need to have an issue with it when they’re not good, when they’re not going well. 

“Not all of a sudden because they’re good now that everyone has an issue with it but no-one was saying that ten years ago when they weren’t getting anywhere. It should have been an issue then to stop it rather than just now. 

Seamus Harnedy lifts the trophy presented by Tracey Kennedy Imokilly captain Seamus Harnedy lifts the Cork SHC title. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“That’s why you can’t say anything now. You just have to deal with the situation you’re in and that’s it. That’s just the way it went and there’s nothing you can do about it.

“We were in a position to try to beat them and we didn’t. That’s sport as well. I wouldn’t hold it against anyone or anything like that. They’re still a team you have to go out and play. 

“I don’t think we performed to what we can. I think there were other times when we haven’t performed as well in other games but because of the calibre of players they have other teams might have been a bit more forgiving in a way so that’s why they took advantage. 

They got goals in the final at a perfect times. At the very start, after half-time, and towards the end to kill the game off. That was really the killer in the end.”

After suffering a “slight tear” in the hip earlier in the campaign, Lehane says he’s free of all niggles heading into the Ballygunner game. That includes the ankle problem that hampered him in the lead-up to the county final. “It’s grand now again,” he says “There’s no issue with it.”

The 26-year-old collected his third Munster medal with Cork during the summer, but looks back on the inter-county season with a tinge of frustration after their extra-time All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Limerick. 

Cork haven’t made it back to the All-Ireland final since their replay loss to Clare in 2013 and they’ve been beaten in three semi-finals since then. 

“If it keeps happening it’s kind of getting into your head, but going in the last two years that wasn’t in our head thinking we’ve lost semi-finals before. 

“That wasn’t going into our heads. It would still be at the back of your head at some stage but you just train yourself mentally not to let it get in there too much because you’d end up believing it and before you know it you’ll end up playing like you believe it and then you’re kind of lost. You have to find a way to block it out as best you can and concentrate on the positive part of it.” 

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Kevin O'Brien

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