By Damian Dolan
You don’t always get what you deserve in sport, and Fr Murphys will know that while they may have set the pace in intermediate this year, it will count for nothing in Sunday’s WReilly IHC final.
Runners up last year to Thomas McCurtains, Murphys have led the way this time around, and it’s already been a ‘successful’ year.
They beat St Gabriels ‘B’ in the McCullough Cup final, and Fulham Irish in the final of the Ronan Cup.
They’ve only lost once all year – to St Gabriels in the Division 2 League decider by 4-11 to 2-7. That may prove to have been a timely reality-check, however.
But the championship is the one they want, especially after last year’s 4-12 to 1-13 defeat to McCurtains. It was a bitter pill to swallow.
We’ll find out on Sunday what, if any, hangover Murphys are still carrying from that loss, and the manner of it.
Murphys had led by two at the break, and it could have been more after a tremendous first half display, only to be outscored by 2-8 to 0-4 in the second half.
It’s one they’ll be eager to remedy as they look for a return to senior hurling following the club’s relegation in 2017.
So far, they’ve overcome all before them. They enjoyed some good wins in the championship group stage, including a close victory over Sunday’s opponents Fulham Irish.
That ensured top spot in the group and set up a semi-final meeting with Cuchulainns, who were voluntarily regraded from senior for 2019.
Murphys eased to a very comfortable 3-28 to 1-6 victory, and then sat back as Fulham and St Gabriel’s ‘B’ slugged it out for the right to face them.
Talisman Stephen Bardon has been fantastic for Murphys. If he plays well, Murphys have every chance. He gave a masterclass in the championship win over Gabriels in his tally of 0-10 (8f).
And they’ve experience in abundance in the likes of Sean Howlin, Alan Griffith, Ryan Meyler, Daniel McGuigan, Ken Watchorn, Chris Weller, Sean Cullen, Sean Brennan and Mick Gordon. All were there when the club beat Brothers Pearse in the 2016 IHC final.
Leslie Coughlan (Midleton, Cork), who has been a rock at centre half back, Michael Burke (Feakle, Clare), Gavin Watchorn (Duffry Rovers, Wexford), John Kehoe (Ballyhogue, Wexford) and Eric McEvoy (Liam Mellows, Galway) have been more than useful additions since then.
While it’s not Fr Murphys title to lose, they have the players, the experience and the motivation to make sure it’s second-time lucky for the men in purple and gold.
But Fulham Irish, their opponents in Sunday’s final at McGovern Park, have their own designs on the trophy, especially after coming through an epic semi-final with Gabriels ‘B’.
The south Londoners, with former London manager Fergus McMahon at the helm, are targeting a first intermediate title since 2012.
The appointment of McMahon was an ambitious one by a club keen to establish itself at senior level, in hurling as well as football.
Only time will tell if they’re battle-hardened from their titanic semi-final clash with Gabriels, or running on empty.
They’re a team of few stars. Midfielder Cathal Keogh, from Kiltormer Co Galway, won senior London titles with Robert Emmetts in 2015 and 2016.
Full forward Conan Finnegan (Ballinacurra, Co Cork) is a classy player and played in key part in their semi-final replay win.
But this is a team is everyone sense of the word – far greater than the sum of its parts. They can all hurl.
And it’s very much a team on the up. The club won just two games in last year’s championship and failed to reach a cup final.
Fast forward 12 months, and not only did they win four group stage matches games in the group stage, but a semi-final.
They also reached the final of the Ronan Cup, where they were well beaten by Murphys by 3-23 to 1-13. But that was back in July.
And as mentioned earlier, Murphys also came out on top when the sides met in the championship group stage, but only by 2-15 to 1-12. A far closer game.
Fr Murphys will be favourites, but Fulham are on their own journey.