Grenagh look best placed to triumph
CROWNED county junior hurling champions last month, Grenagh will be bidding to complete a unique double when they take on Mid-Cork neighbours Aghabullogue in the intermediate football decider at Pairc Uí Rinn on Sunday
It's a pairing that wouldn't have been widely predicted at the start of the season, although Grenagh showed that they weren't too far off the pace last year, running eventual champions Castletownbere to two points in Round 4.
Aghabullogue, for their part, shipped a 1-15 to 0-5 drubbing from Kilnmartyra at the same stage in 2012, and, no doubt, their progress to Sunday's showdown will have raised quite a few eyebrows.
Yet, the reality is that this a very competitive grade, with most teams displaying variable form not only from year to year but from game to game. Last year, for instance, Castletownbere lost their first two games before going on to lift the title, while 2012 runners-up Éire Óg and defeated semi finalists Kilnamartyra and Adrigole all failed to qualify for the last four this year.
Since garnering county junior football glory in 2004, Aghabullogue have generally found the going tough in intermediate ranks, not least in 2009 when they just managed to avoid demotion, edging out Delanys by two points in a relegation final replay.
They showed no little potential at times, however, reaching the quarter finals two years ago where they finished just a point adrift of eventual runners-up Castletownbere. Notwithstanding the thrashing they endured at the hands of Kilnamartyra last year, they deserved better than to be dismissed as complete no-hopers in 2013, as it had to be acknowledged they were capable of putting it up to any opposition on a good day
In deservedly claiming the scalps of Mayfield, who had been relegated from premier ranks in 2012, and Youghal against the odds in turn, they showed encouraging signs of consistency this year, the absence of which had been their main handicap in previous campaigns.
In the circumstances, it simply beggars belief that they were given little or no chance when they squared to Glanworth in the semi final last weekend. It was largely on the basis of a quarter final win over highly-rated Kanturk that Glanworth had been installed as the hottest of favourites to put Aghabullogue to the sword.
But any team that qualifies for a county semi final has to be respected, and Aghabullogue, on a bit of a roll, were bound to be highly motivated by the fact that they were perceived to be little more than lambs for the slaughter.
True, they had been waiting for the best part of four months to taste championship action following their win over Youghal, and such a lengthy delay was hardly calculated to enhance their prospects of making further progress. That it dulled their edge to a degree was evidenced when they were hit for 1-3 in the opening five minutes last Sunday.
Far from being demoralised by their inauspicious start, however, Aghabullogue displayed tremendous resolve and self-belief to come storming back, and they were by no means flattered to run out winners by 0-12 to 1-6.
They played some excellent, constructive football as well, with Under 21 player John Corkery, who oozed class at corner-forward, making an outstanding contribution to what was essentially a purposeful and assured team display.
Were they to they replicate that sort of form, they will take a lot of stopping in the final, but that might be easier said than done against a Grenagh side holding a definite edge in terms of big-match experience.
Grenagh won this title as recently as 2007, when about eight of the present team were involved in their historic final win over Carrigaline. They were relegated two years ago, and it was felt that the inclusion of so many dual-players in their ranks could militate against their hopes of making a quick return to the premier intermediate grade.
Now, however, it has to be viewed as a plus that the bulk of the team have already enjoyed a county final success with the hurlers, as it means the pressure is off to a certain extent, and there is no danger they will be intimidated by the occasion on Sunday.
Grenagh showed they have put the disappointment of the Munster club junior hurling club semi final defeat by Waterford's Ballysaggart behind them when accounting for Rockchapel, 1-11 to 1-6, last weekend.
As with Aghabullogue, they conceded an early goal in their semi final game, but, making light of that setback, they finished the first half 1-5 to 1-3 in front, with an Ultan Duggan strike giving them the lead just before the interval.
They hit the ground running in the second half, stretching the gap to seven points by the 44th minute, and they always had the situation under control after that. Grenagh have played five games, two more than Aghabullogue, en route to the final, losing the first to Cloyne by a point on a day when the wet and windy conditions made it impossible to produce any sort of decent football.
They have since delivered the goods against Canovee, Fermoy, Ballydesmond and Rockchapel, and they will be hell-bent on completing a year of unprecedented success for the club on Sunday. They are possibly a bit better-balanced than Aghabullogue, and they certainly possess a very formidable midfield pairing in seasoned stalwarts Tom Kenny and Gerry Russell.
Should they shade the issue in this sector, it could prove decisive, but Aghabullogue made it abundantly clear against Glanworth that they have what it takes to make a bold bid for glory on their best form.
Adding a bit more spice to the decider is that Aghabullogue coach and Mourneabbey native Cathal Cronin steered Grenagh to their county IFC title in 2007, while obviously the Muskerry derby factor doesn't make it any easier to predict the outcome.
On the grounds that they have been down this road before, Grenagh look the safer bet to prevail, but Aghabullogue – providing they can handle the occasion and put their best foot forward would be well capable of coming out on top