AFTER surviving four stern tests on the trot en route to winning the county junior hurling championship title for the first time, it must have made a welcome change for Kildorrery when they cruised home against Butlerstown of Waterford in the Munster club semi final three weeks ago.
Kildorrery finished just a point to the good over Carrignavar in the quarter final of the county, and they had a goal to spare in a thrilling semi final encounter with Kilbrin, while they again came through by the bare minimum following two epic collisions with Brian Dillons in the decider.
That they registered an unflattering 20-point triumph, 4-19 to 0-11, over Butlerstown wouldn't have raised too many eyebrows, however, as it was very much in keeping with the standard set by Cork teams in the competition over the past two seasons.
Last year, for instance, Charleville comfortably accounted for Kerry kingpins Kenmare and Tipperary's Rockwell Rovers in turn before romping to a 315 to 2-8 win over Limerick's Cappamore in the Munster final.
And it was a similar story in 2010 for Cork standardbearers Meelin, who completed their provincial campaign when thrashing St Patrick's of Tipperary to the tune of 5-18 to 0-9.
All of which suggests that Kildorrery are entitled to fancy their chances of coming up trumps when they take on St Kieran's of Limerick in next Sunday's final at Mallow.
Based on semi final form, it's hard to see Kildorrery's bid to bring the title to Leeside for the third successive year coming unstuck, given that St Kieran's were put to the pin of their collar to advance at the expense of Kenmare.
That St Kieran's won that game by 1-11 to 1-7, having led by just a point at half time, hardly augurs well for their prospects of measuring up against Cork opposition, considering that Kenmare shipped a 1-13 to 0-5 drubbing from Charleville in last year's quarter-final.
St Kieran's did make light work of dispatching Tipp champions Kilsheelan-Kilcash in their opening assignment, but - taking St Patricks' and Rockwell Rangers' feeble displays against Meelin and Charleville respectively over the last two years as a yardstick - it would be fair to say that club hurling at junior level in the Premier County isn't exactly top of the range at the moment.
For all that, Kildorrery would be well-advised to tread warily against St Kieran's, bearing in mind that Limerick produced the Munster champions in 2009 when Blackrock edged Fermoy out by a point in the final.
The following year Effin made a decent fight of it before succumbing to Meelin at the semi final stage, so, even if Cappamore fell down badly against Charleville in 2011, it would be imprudent to completely dismiss the aspirations of the current Shannonside representatives.
It will be a surprise if St Kieran's don't provide Kildorrery with a sterner test than Butlerstown, and if the North-Cork men aren't fully tuned in, it could have disastrous consequences.
Providing Kildorrery can guard against complacency, however, they should be very hard to stop, and they are entitled to draw a lot of encouragement from their performance in the semi final.
While they weren't headed at any stage, they took a while to fully settle into that game, relying on an early goal from a Peter O'Brien free to keep them in front during the opening 20 minutes.
But they eventually clicked into top gear to stretch the gap to five points before the interval, and they proceeded to pile on the punishment in the second half, with Eamonn O'Connor, O'Brien and Finbarr Stapleton sharing three goals as they left hapless Butlerstown trailing in their wake.
As has been the case all season, O'Brien was Kildorrery's main man in attack, but he wasn't lacking in able accomplices, with all six of the forwards getting on the scoresheet from play.
O'Connor, Dave Kelly and Will Fuohy were particularly impressive, and the latter, drafted into the team after wing back Michael Lillis cried off with an injury, certainly availed of the opportunity to lay down a marker, capping a lively performance with three well-taken points.
Fuohy probably did enough to make the starting fifteen on Sunday, but, with Lillis back to full fitness, it won't be easy for the selectors to pick the team for the clash with St Kieran's.
Lillis is bound to be accommodated in his customary wing back berth which would mean that either Richard McEnery or Liam Kelly will complete the half back line along with Michael Walsh, who is one of the team's mainstays at centre back.
Versatile team skipper McEnery was moved back from attack to fill in for Lillis the last day, and he could be restored to a forward division in which O'Brien, Dave Kelly, O'Connor and Stapleton have been everpresent all year.
In that event, Sean Kelly, despite an industrious performance at wing forward against Butlerstown, could be the player to lose out.
But if McEnery is retained at wing back, it's likely that Liam Kelly - who, while he played well, had the misfortune to come up against the Waterford side's most accomplished forward Jim Power in the semi final - will be demoted.
Whatever happens, Kildorrery won't be lacking quality options on the bench, and, with Niall Kelly, Shane Fitzgerald and John Howard comprising a formidable full back line in front of ultra-dependable custodian James McEnery, they would appear to have a hell of a lot going for them.
Should they prevail, it would bring the curtain down on a year of unprecedented success for the club, and it would also prevent a whitewash for Cork teams in the various Munster club hurling and football championships in 2012.
- NOEL HORGAN