The names change, the debates live on

IT WAS county final weather in Pairc Ui Chaoimh yesterday, and county final conditions.

Patrons will be familiar with the constituent elements: two parts
October sunshine to one part yielding ground, with a breeze cutting down the Marina to spite the clear skies. The cocktail is familiar to anyone who ever attended the Little All-Ireland.

We have a reason for starting with the meteorology, not to mention the geology, one that doesn’t augur well for the entertainment value of the county final itself. Sarsfields and
Newtownshandrum headlined
yesterday and served up an even first half but the game began to die as a contest once Ben O’Connor flicked home his side’s opening goal.

When Newtown added goals from Jamie Coughlan and PJ Copse there were 15 points between the sides with a quarter of the game left. Sarsfields required snookers, if not actually
stuffing the pockets of the table with socks.

It was a surprising demolition given Sars were viewed as slight favourites, and did nothing for the spectators’
enjoyment of the closing stages.

During those final 15 minutes the tension was bearable, frankly.

Newtown won’t be bothered by the fact that the game wasn’t destined to be remembered as one of the great contests; for them it was one of the best displays. And one of the best
results, a historic trimming, 3-22 to 1-12.

History was a constant yesterday in Pairc Ui Chaoimh. After all, one of the men who helped to build the
reputation of the Cork county senior final as a perpetual highlight of the hurling calendar, Din Joe Buckley of Glen Rovers, died last week.

It was good that he was
remembered before the throw-in yesterday with a minute’s silence because he, his team-mates and their
opponents were the men who fought it out in the old Athletic Grounds for the county title and established the competition’s credibility.

Given yesterday’s drubbing it’s worth remembering that it wasn’t always a case of diamond on diamond back then, even — Buckley picked up one of his county championship medals 71 years ago, and that game had echoes of yesterday’s. Back then the Glen were more promising start-up than the corporate superpower they became, much like Newtown; their opponents were Midleton, a traditional east Cork superpower, much like Sarsfields.

Even the scoreline that day has a familiar ring — 5-6 to 1-3, a point less than yesterday’s winning margin.

Other days which recalled the long shadows of autumn were remembered at half-time in the senior game, when the victorious senior captains of the last 25 years were introduced. As ever when you range across a random selection of men from quarter of a century of Irish life, there was a full spectrum of fashion sensibilities on offer — from distressed jeans among the recent winners to muted earth tones for the older men, aligned with classic conservative winter jackets.

They had something in common, though — a shining hour in the old stadium by the river and the memory of having to recall some primary school Irish before wiping their hands and receiving the Sean Óg Murphy Cup. The warmth of the applause was genuine, and if it was a little louder for Kevin Hennessy and Christy Coughlan junior, then that was understandable.

As for Cork observers in the market for optimism next year, they saw Ben O’Connor and his brother play as well as ever.

In terms of fresh blood for the red jersey, Michael Cussen showed neatness in possession and good accuracy for Sarsfields; in the first half he pulled down a couple of high deliveries but couldn’t work a goal opportunity, and as his team fell away he was starved of possession and forced to move outfield. By then Sars were taking water everywhere, however.

Early arrivals saw Eoin Cadogan cruise through the curtain-raiser, the Premier intermediate final between his Douglas side and Ballymartle. Cadogan’s long, smooth stride devoured the ground in Páirc Ui Chaoimh and showed why he’s wanted by Conor Counihan and Denis Walsh alike.

A little optimism for 2010, then, but in football or hurling? The county final has always been more than a game and a result; it’s always functioned as a thesis for debate. And there was plenty of that as the knots of people moved up the Monahan Road, drawing their coats around them as they strolled in the shadows beneath the trees.

The names may change, but those discussions never end.