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'I heard that never before had they an outsider' - Ben O'Connor, Cork senior club winning coach

The Cork hurling legend guided Midleton to senior glory in Sunday’s county final.

the-midleton-panel Midleton lifted the Cork senior hurling title on Sunday. Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

BEN O’CONNOR AND Cork senior hurling finals are a familiar pairing.

He played in six and was a shining light for Newtownshandrum in four that saw them secure the spoils.

Sunday brought another successful addition to his hurling CV, with a significant twist as he bolstered his coaching reputation in guiding Midleton to the summit for 2021.

It has been a partnership that has flourished, success allowed O’Connor a moment to trace back to the origins.

“Luke O’Farrell (a former Cork senior team-mate) rang me the first day and I was actually at the races in Mallow.

john-cronin-with-luke-ofarrell Luke O'Farrell in action in the 2018 Cork senior hurling final (file photo).

“I said I’d ring him when I got home so I rang him and he asked me to get involved. I was thinking and I said, ‘I’ll ring you back in a week, Luke. Give me a few days.’

“So I did and I was on to a few fellas. Obviously, you ring around and you see what’s the story. I was ringing around and I heard that never before had they an outsider.

“So it put you thinking a small bit – ‘What’s the story here? If I go down, will everything go right?’

“So I went down, met the boys and from the first night I knew straight away there was no problem. With Mr Midleton Ger (Fitzgerald), he had everything organised. I just knew there was a group of players who would do anything they were asked to do.

“We have about 40 on the panel and every fella is deserving of their county medal because they all put in a fierce effort and number 40 has done as much training as number 1.

“All clubs will say that but I’ve seen it first hand. It’s unbelievable down there. They’re all mad hurling down there.”

The win over Glen Rovers propels O’Connor into a select group, a county senior hurling winner as a player and coach with different clubs.

ben-oconnor-of-newtownshandrum-celebrates-victory Ben O'Connor celebrating victory after the 2005 Cork senior hurling final. Source: INPHO

“It’s nice but I don’t think about it too much. I was saying during the week that you were getting messages, ‘best of luck’ and everything, but a pat on the back and a kick in the backside there is only six inches between the two but it’s nice to have it done.

“There aren’t too many that get to do both so I’m lucky enough that the players there have all the ingredients. They’re deadly men to work, they have a deadly will to win.”

The second season at the helm of Midleton was in stark contrast to O’Connor’s first, where a turbulent campaign culminated with them losing out in the group stage race for the knockout stages.

“We had a load of work done with them and the next thing in March it was called off and then we had four weeks to get ready for championship and it was all over in about five weeks.

“This year, we started 15 May. We didn’t get much of a league but we still won the league and got our few challenge matches. It’s a great championship with the way it’s operating. There are no dead rubbers and it’s competitive so the extra time without a break did help. Fellas were mad for road and a few new bodies came into it as well this year.

“We have fierce pace throughout our team so for me that’s the main thing – you have hurlers and you have pace. After that, aggression and attitude should be a given in every team.

“I said it to the boys I thought the game that made us was the Erins Own game. I know Hero (Kieran Murphy) was sent off early on and it was 15 against 14 and you wouldn’t want to be carried away but we needed to win a big championship knock-out match.

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“I think that gave the boys that little bit of confidence that we could drive on. Everyone knows how tough Erins Own are to beat. Against The Rockies, it was a totally different game to play, it was very open and it was fast.

“(The final) was more dogged and more scrappy, which probably wouldn’t suit us, but that’s all credit to The Glen to do what suits them. It’s tough going to lose three in a row. It just shows the mentality that they’ll keep coming back every year.”

And now the Midleton focus switches to a bigger stage. O’Connor is well acquainted with club hurling adventures in Munster.

ben-oconnor-celebrates-at-the-final-whistle Ben O'Connor after the 2009 Munster senior club final.

He enjoyed three provincial final wins in the senior grade playing for Newtownshandrum and also sampled an intermediate victory as Charleville coach in 2018.

“Of course it is (important), especially after Cork being beaten by Limerick in an All-Ireland final. There isn’t that much of a gap. Cork had a bad day at the office, Limerick had a very good day at the office so it is some place in between.

“We’re going to have a right cut off Kilmallock in three weeks’ time and we’re going all out to win the Munster and we’re not hiding that. I just think the pressure is off. I think the hardest thing is to win your county.

“Everybody knows your team, everybody knows what way you set up and everything. Now we did play Kilmallock in a challenge match in July so they know about us and we know about it but it’s going to be totally different. You’re going to be playing in December and we’re just hoping for a fine day.

“I just always found that when we got there ourselves that we went out and enjoyed it. You’ve a day out on the bus, a few pints on the way home after it, it’s a big day out for the lads.”

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Fintan O'Toole

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