KILDORRERY were perceived as potential party poopers prior to last year's protracted North-Cork junior hurling final.
It will be recalled that Charleville had been nominated to represent Avondhu in the county series in 2011, and they proved worthy standard-bearers, completing their campaign with a victory over city kingpins Mayfield in a replayed final. It meant there were two titles up for grabs when they met Kildorrery a week later, and the consensus was it would have been rough justice on Charleville had they been forced to hand over the big prize.
As things transpired, Charleville continued on their winning way, but they had to battle hard to collect the spoils at Kildorrery's expense. Following Charleville's subsequent exploits in the Munster club championship, and the fact that they went agonisingly close to lifting an All-Ireland title, Kildorrery were entitled to feel they were in with a decent chance of claiming championship silverware this year.
Even with Charleville – who enjoyed a good run in this year's county intermediate championship, succumbing narrowly to Kanturk at the semi-final stage – out of the equation, however, Kildorrery would have been fully aware that the path to a divisional title was laden with pitfalls. That was underlined in the opening round when they were put of the pin of their collar to get the better of Harbour Rovers.
Indeed, an upset looked on the cards after the Glanworth side grabbed a couple of early goals to open up a nine-point lead, but Kildorrery recovered well to run out winners by 2-15 to 3-10. They made light work of dispatching Kilworth's second team after that, but they were pushed all the way by Ballygiblin in the semi final, eventually coming through with just four points to spare, 3-11 to 210.
They renewed rivalry with Harbour Rangers in the decider, and they were by far the superior side this time as they powered home by 3-17 to 1-10 to garner divisional glory for the first time since 1988. Narrow victories over Carrignavar, 1-15 to 1-14, and Kilbrin, 314 to 2-14, have since enabled them to move to within one game of county success for the second year in-a-row. And, in contrast to 2011, they will have the entire Avondhu hurling fraternity behind them as they attempt to register a historic triumph when they square up to city champions Brian Dillons at Pairc Ui Rinn next Sunday.
It will be Kildorrery's first appearance in a county final proper since 1972 when they lost to Newcestown, while Brian Dillons previously qualified for the decider in 1965, finishing second best to Ballinhassig that year. Needless to say, both sides will spare nothing in their bid for the laurels, and a cracking contest looks on the cards. Brian Dillons will enter the fray with highly impressive credentials, having come up trumps in the city final at the expense of a Mayfield side that took Charleville to a replay in last year's showpiece.
The previous year Mayfield were eliminated at the semi final stage by eventual All-Ireland club champions Meelin. And the Duhallow club's team boss Liam Ryan is on record as stating that the stiffest opposition they encountered on the road to Croke Park was provided by Mayfield, so it was no mean achievement by Brian Dillons to bring them down this year.
Brian Dillons have fashioned a couple of merited wins over Ballinhassig and Grenagh since then, and, no doubt, they believe they are well capable of adding to the club's only county junior hurling triumph achieved in 1938.
Kildorrery selector Pat Fenton accepts it's going to be a hard game to win, but he is quietly confident the North-Cork side can rise to the challenge.
"We have to be confident to a certain extent, but we do know that Brian Dillons are a very good outfit, and they have a lethal free-taker in John Horgan. I watched them in the semi final, and they were fairly impressive in beating a Grenagh side that had Johnny Keane at the helm and was considered to be very strong.
"They also accounted for Mayfield in the city final, and we felt that Mayfield would be the team to beat this year after seeing them in the two games against Charleville last year. But we are pleased enough with our own form, although we had to dig deep to get the better of Kilbrin last Saturday night. We went in with a big lead at half time, but, no matter how much we tried to guard against it, we were possibly a bit complacent in the second half, and we were lucky enough to get the win in the end," Fenton admitted.
"The worry for us now is that the game could have taken a lot out of the players, because the ground was very soft, but the good thing is that we have no injury worries."
Fenton contends that Kildorrery have been improving with every game this season, making the point that they had a few players injured and a few players doing exams at the start of the season. "But then Mikey Walsh came back to us, and that was a big boost, all the more so since we had lost Andrew O'Brien, who was our regular centre back last year."
Walsh, who lined out with the Cork seniors in the league a few seasons ago, will have a key role to play at centre back in the final, and it would be a major plus for Kildorrery if he produces his best form. While John Horgan is Brian Dillons' ace marksman, there is good balance to their attack, with such as Cillian Brosnan and Brian Barrett other forwards who will take a lot of watching.
In Thomas Lawrence and Cian McCarthy possess a formidable midfield pairing, while there is a very solid look about their defence where Mark White will be entrusted with the onerous task of keeping tabs on Kildorrery's powerful centre forward Peter O'Brien. O'Brien was in devastating form in the semi final, scoring 2-4 from play, but he wasn't lacking support up front where such as Dave Kelly and Finbarr Stapleton also made their presence felt.
Gerry McCarthy is going great guns at midfield this season, while, along with Michael Walsh, Kildorrery are well served at the back by Michael Lillis, Shane Fitzgerald and Niall Kelly, not to mention James McEnery, who excelled between the sticks in the semi-final
"We will be hoping for the best on Sunday, and we are due a change of luck in a county final because we have lost three of them in football over the past few years," says Pat Fenton, who skippered Kildorrery to their last county championship success in junior football in 1978. And perhaps it's a favourable omen for Kildorrery that Brian Dillons were their opponents in the county final back then. Verdict: Kildorrery
- NOEL HORGAN