Ryan Byrne/INPHO Imokilly boss Fergal Condon celebrates with his players.
Still On Top

'I found that emotionally very hard' - changes on the way for Imokilly but they remain the elite in Cork

The divisional side reigned again on Leeside yesterday.

THE SENSE OF finality was not just restricted to the conclusion of the 2019 championship in Cork senior hurling circles yesterday.

Imokilly gathered the silverware, as has become the custom of late, completing the first three-in-a-row in the county since 1982 when they had four points to spare over Glen Rovers.

The achievement of such a feat naturally sparks debate over when the supremacy of a side will end but what is certain is that the East Cork setup will be changed when they take to the starting grid in 2020.

It was known before yesterday that four of their starting players – Ger Millerick, Declan Dalton, Mark O’Keeffe and Paudie O’Sullivan – would be exempt next year with their clubs Fr O’Neill’s and Cloyne jumping up to Senior A level as part of a competition revamp in Cork. Between them those two clubs had five more players as part of the official 30-man panel yesterday.

With a pair of current Cork seniors and one former amongst the quartet, they provide a sizeable measure of talent with Dalton the chief score-taker as he amassed 2-16 over the course of the semi-final and final ties.

The new development was the post-match declaration of their boss Fergal Condon, recently installed as part of the Cork U20 management team under Pat Ryan, that he was departing.

“It’s such a hard thing to do to step in front of 34, 35 gentlemen that you really admire and say you’re moving on,” Condon told Red FM afterwards.

“I found that emotionally very hard to be honest. We’ve built up a great bond, they trust one another, fellas look out for each other. If there’s a problem they’ll let you know and you can sort it out man to man, and that’s the way it should be.

“The way they play when they tog off and have the jersey on their back, it’s unbelievable. I’m proud of each and every one of them.”

seamus-harnedy-celebrates Ryan Byrne / INPHO Seamus Harnedy celebrates after Imokilly's win over Glen Rovers. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Condon’s tenure concludes after enjoying huge success. He oversaw Imokilly’s title record increase from two to five with three final wins achieved over traditional powerhouses of the game in the county in Blackrock, Midleton and Glen Rovers. Yesterday’s success stretched their unbeaten run to 19 games. Their dominance has been best expressed by the fact that 10 of their 17 victories in that time frame have been achieved by double-digit margins.

The loss of the man directing the tiller and a few key operators in the unit on the pitch does not necessarily spell the end of their dominance.

Imokilly’s advantage is clear in operating as a divisional outfit with a deep pool of playing resources. It is quite an achievement for the East Cork to successfully fuse those individual components into such a strong collective and remain consistently at the top  but the sheer talent available to them has been instrumental.

11 different clubs supplied players to their starting 15 yesterday with a further two contributing to their player. They have had seven players who started all three recent final wins – the departing O’Keeffe and O’Sullivan amongst those – to signify that chopping and changing their starting fifteen has not halted their victories.

They will be hit with absentees for their next campaign but Cork defenders Colm Spillane and Niall O’Leary (both from Castlelyons) are potential additions to their cause. There has been more evidence of late that they are being tested, Their winning margins in their last two games of 2018 were 12 and 13 points with St Finbarr’s and Glen Rovers pushing them harder this month before falling to defeats by respective margins of six and four points.

The divisional concept is a difficult one for many national GAA followers to grasp yet remains strong in Cork and Kerry. For Glen Rovers the tough scenario to contend with after putting so much into yesterday’s battle is that they will have to face into a Munster club campaign.

In three weeks they will head to Tipperary for a semi-final against Borris-Ileigh or Kiladangan. It’s an onerous task to regroup in such circumstances as both Blackrock and Midleton discovered over the past two years. For Glen Rovers it has still been a productive decade, ending their 26-year drought for a trophy in 2015, retaining it a year later and contesting another three finals.

They’ll likely be a strong challenger again next year on the Cork club circuit but Imokilly, despite the overhaul that is imminent, will remain the pace-setters after the last three seasons have closed with Cork captain Seamus Harnedy grasping silverware.

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