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Preparations Continue In East Cork For Showpiece Final

By John Cashman (Evening Echo)

Preparations are continuing at pace in both the Castlemartyr and Sarsfield’s camps ahead of next weekend’s East Cork Oil Junior ‘A’ Grade Hurling Championship Final in the Imokilly barony.

The big match which goes ahead on Saturday evening in Rostellan (6pm) is set to attract a large attendance as Castlemartyr make their first final appearance since losing to Erin’s Own in the 1975 decider. They won the last of their seven titles 11 years earlier in a season that also brought county honours. Opponents Sarsfield’s are currently riding on the crest of a very high wave and have made no secret of their desire to add more hurling silverware to the Riverstown trophy cabinet.

Last weekend representatives of both clubs assembled at Rostellan in the company of Divisional Board representatives as this year’s final was officially launched. On a glorious sunny evening it was very much a case of the calm before the storm when rival captains Ollie Smiddy and Paul Roche relaxed and surveyed the picturesque scene.

“It’s going to be a great occasion for our club” said Castlemartyr leader Smiddy who admits that the team’s march to the final has attracted plenty of interest locally.

“This year there seems to be more belief in the team. We have been building slowly over the past few seasons and with a very well organised set up in the background we were quietly confident of having a good run in the competition at the out set of the season”.

Castlemartyr operate with a relatively small but very committed and closely knit panel. Their campaign began in early June against Cloyne, a game in which although they triumphed by ten points, they didn’t reach any great heights. Next up it was a local derby against Midleton, a game that turned out to be a real cracker.

“We started that tie well”, recalls Ollie Smiddy, “ but gave away some soft goals in the second half that kept them in the match”, admits Ollie. In the end Brian and Jimmy (Smiddy) conjured up a great winning point”.

In the quarter final against Carrigtwohill in Lisgoold, Castlemartyr chalked up an eye catching 26 points.

“Everything went right on the night. We scored 13 points in each half and a lot of players got on the score sheet, so overall it was very pleasing”, said the team leader.

Awaiting in the semi final were Erin’s Own. Thirty four years ago in that aforementioned final on the same Clonmult Memorial Park pitch, “the reds” left defeated. When the two clubs collided again last Saturday week, the outcome and thus the Castlemartyr emotions were different, as a one point win was recorded, thanks to a whole hearted display by a very determined team.

“We had to get over the psychological barrier of pushing on and winning a semi final. Conditions were damp, the ball was wet, scores were hard to come by, so it was a test of stamina. We managed to stick in there and get the result”.

Now awaiting in the final is the biggest challenge Castlemartyr have faced in recent years. Nobody around Paddy Walshe Memorial Park this week is under any illusions as to what is required. Ollie Smiddy is quick to add his words of praise for the immediate opposition.

“Look from the word go, they have set out their stall out with that win over defending champions Carraig na bhFear. There is no doubt that there are the team to beat. From our point of view we can only beat the opposition that is put in front of us. We have done that so far. We are hoping for one more big performance. Although progress has been made in getting to the final, now we really want to win it,” concluded Ollie.

His opposite number Paul Roche has taken the scenic route to this stage of his career. From the Sar’s senior team two summers ago, to almost a year away in Australia, a temporary return to Riverstown saw Paul look on as the team of 2008 were crowned county senior champions. 2009 saw the popular defender handed the captaincy of the junior side and it’s been a winning sequence of results all the way.

“The club have been very lucky over the last couple of years to be involved in a number of finals in different grades. I think all of the success is down to the work being done from under 6’s upwards in the club. The place is buzzing, there are always people in the pitch every day of the week”.

No doubt there was more than a tinge of disappointment for Paul when missed out on being on the field when the county cup was finally won to end the famine.

“I never thought I’d see the day. It was great to see the lads I grew up and played with winning the final”.

However, getting back to joining them on the first fifteen has proved no easy task for the talented full back such has been the form displayed by the players in possession of the jerseys.

“The junior team are benefitting all around. We have 30 players training in the senior panel, all of whom are capable of playing senior hurling and of course there is the very good crop of minor players, who are reaping the rewards of training with the more experienced players. All we can all do is play well for the junior and hope the senior management will be impressed”.

In accessing the East Cork Final, Paul pin points the opening win over reigning champions Carraig nabhFear as a real highlight.

“At the time we were all playing well. As champions Carraig were expected to go a long way in the competition, so it was a very pleasing to record an impressive victory over them first time out. We were a bit displeased with our display next time out against Dungourney, when we conceded some bad goals. Lisgoold had their homework done in the semi final the first day. They had a game plan that they stuck to, which we found very hard to come to terms with – we were lucky to survive”

Replays seldom follow the same script. Sars rattled in 3-19 in the second meeting three days later, more like the form that has them installed as firm favourites to take the coveted Jamsey Kelleher Cup home on Saturday evening.

“The replay display was a great confidence booster. We went out with a point to prove and put a strong emphasis on getting a good start. The first 20 minutes was much closer than the score board suggested and didn’t really reflect Lisgoold’s efforts”

“As regards the final Castlemartyr will be giving a real go, because they haven’t been there for so long. They will have a fierce hunger to succeed. From our point of view it’s a case of trying to continue the club’s recent success. The junior title was won in 2004, but we lost to Erin’s Own two years ago in the final. Hopefully the outcome will be different this time. If we play to our potential we can triumph, but in sixty minutes of hurling anything can happen”, he concluded.

Derby County were England’s top team, Arthur Ashe was Wimbledon champion and L’Escargot won the Aintree Grand National the last time a Castlemartyr team was looking forward to East Cork’s annual hurling highlight. Whilst the smart money will be on Sars to halt the Reds' dreams, hunger and desire to end the famine will no doubt propel Castlemartyr to a gigantic effort in this much awaited final.

It could be a cracking sixty minutes in Willie Ryan Memorial Park, Rostellan.

NB: For those who can't make the game, C103 will broadcast live reports from Rostellan every 10 - 15 minutes