Duhallow hurling is now reaping what it has sown
CORK hurling fans are gearing up for the biggest game in the calendar on coming up against the Banner in a novel All Ireland Senior hurling final.
As Sunday inches closer and closer to one of the most intriguing tussles in the long history of gaelic games, the excitement and anticipation is none more so evident than in the great barony of Duhallow.
A region previously associated with great football servants placed in immorality on helping Cork to glory, notably Din Connors in 1945, a Millstreet quartet of Humphrey Kelleher, John Coleman, Con Hartnett and Denis Long from 1973, Newmarket's Danny Culloty in 1989/90 to Aidan Walsh and Donnacha O'Connor sampling the accolades in 2010, now they may well be joined by the skills of hurlers Anthony Nash, William Egan, Lorcán McLoughlin and Mark Ellis.
Given that four members of the panel come from Duhallow, it is certainly endearing unprecedented interest on Sunday's tussle. That may be a surprise to those on the periphary but a close look at the structures reveals the fruits of intense effort at underage level within Duhallow is now blossoming.
Combining a crop of talented young players coming through the ranks and reaching the top of the ladder is the ultimate dream of any player to reach and participate on an All-Ireland Final Day in September.
Leading the Cork charge in Croker on Sunday include regulars Nash and McLoughlin from Kanturk and Egan (Kilbrin) along with substitute Ellis representing Millstreet.
It is far from an overnight success and while clubs and the division can take credit from their encouragement, one man's dream will be realised if the above mentioned quartet follow the previous All-Ireland senior hurling winner from the division, Jerry Cronin from Newmarket, a substitute goalkeeper on the 1977/8 team.
That man is Castlemagner based Jim O'Sullivan whose dedication has bore fruition on Duhallow teams playing at the highest level within the county.
"I became involved as Development Officer to the Duhallow Juvenile Board in 2001. My brief was to raise the profile of hurling in the division. County hurlers Seán Óg Ó hAlpín and Pat Mulcahy came in to coach 11-year olds such as Lorcán, William Egan and Mark Ellis," he said.
Subsequently, the process has continued, progressing for Duhallow to field teams from Under-14 to minor in the county premier league and championships.
"Though our clubs are small, many players possessed ability but we needed to be playing at the highest level. That was confirmed in a County Premier Minor Hurling Championship Final appearance and reaching four Under-21 deciders. This has been a huge development to the structure of the game. Obviously the standing is confirmed on those involved from Duhallow with the current Cork team. Hopefully, they are others who can follow onto Cork teams down the road," said Jim.
"I've been involved with either Cork development or minor hurling teams for the past decade. Our young players needed to be paraded to the top team managements within the county. Previously players from Duhallow clubs didn't get the opportunity. Nowadays. We get regular phone calls to query who is good enough to make a county panel. That's in comparison to chasing to get a player into the system in the past," he said.
Jim is delighted to see the likes of Anthony Nash, William Egan and Lorcán McLoughlin now become household names in the game.
"Going back to 2001 with the likes of William and Lorcán amongst a group of 10 and 11 years old, Seán Óg recognised potential to become great players. Lorcán came to the coaching sessions wearing a Tipperary jersey. Seán Og identified him within 10 minutes of the initial session as a star of the future," he said.
Jim is quick to pay tribute to the clubs on helping to convene the cream of talent that is available, with particular thanks to Steven Lynch from the Duhallow Junior Board/Rebel Óg North Cork and Seán Óg Ó hAlpín, the last man to captain a Cork team to Liam McCarthy glory.
"Over the past twelve years Seán Óg has come on board. During the past summer, he assisted in a two-hour coaching at Ballyhass Lakes with our U-14/15 panels. These groups meet at a set time each Sunday and we participate in blitzes all over Munster. The commitment of players and parents is terrific, the players readily equipped to play for Duhallow or the county," he said.
Jim can read a game perfectly and expects a big effort from Cork if they are to lay their hand on their 31st All-Ireland title.
"Against Limerick, Clare were very impressive, catching great ball and pointing surperbly. Cork will need to be in the top of their game to bring the Liam McCarthy Cup home and I've every confidence that they will do so," he said.
No matter the outcome to the All-Ireland final, Jim has confirmed the return of a fund-raising blitz that supports worthy causes in a special underage get together of hurling enthusiasts.
"Our previous events helped build houses in Zambia in addition to supporting CUH projects. Plans are afoot to undertake a similar staging shortly, hopefully Seán Óg will be joined by 2013 All-Ireland medallists in Lorcán, Anthony, William and Mark in the company of a special visitor, namely the McCarthy Cup," he said.