THE Cork County PIHC has lived up to its billing again as one of the most competitive grades under the auspices of the County Board.
It has been recognised as a competition with a very level playing field, no clear favourite at its outset each season, unlike some of the other grades that you could pencil in three or four teams that are ahead of the rest in the leading contenders group.
The group stages of the PIHC were a resounding success and they culminated last Friday night with some great drama.
We are now down to the final six, two teams making it straight through to the semi-finals and four more contesting two quarter-finals.
And it’s anybody’s guess who is going to come out smelling of roses on the final day.
The big story last Friday night had to be Courcey Rovers. They went into their assignment with Aghada down in the dumps, having played two games and losing both.
One would have thought that their only priority in that game was trying to avoid being sucked into the relegation mire.
Their confidence could not have been too high and they were rank outsiders in the qualification stakes.
But look what transpired, they blitz Aghada with their best display of the season and end up winning by 15 points.
Carrigaline maintained their 100% record in defeating Youghal which meant that three teams, Courceys, Aghada and Youghal all ended up bracketed on two points.
But that resounding victory by the Ballinspittle team gave them a superior points difference and they went through to one of the quarter-finals, against overwhelming odds.
This has to be one of their finest hours for quite some time given where they were before the commencement of play last Friday night.
But they go through on merit, Richard Sweetnam their scoring hero again with a return of 1-9 and with seven scorers in total.
Their victory illustrated plenty of guts and character and it showed again that the only certainty in this grade of hurling is the uncertainty.
Courceys will take huge belief from this outcome and here’s one who is now putting them right into the mix for the ultimate prize. In fact, one would go as far as to say that all the six remaining sides left in the chase for the big prize are on an equal footing.
Without a doubt, Carrigaline, Watergrasshill and Carrigaline are the form teams, all ending the group stage with maximum points.
Castlelyons and Carrigaline have the advantage of avoiding what will be tricky quarter-final but every one of the six contenders will fancy their chances now of becoming a senior club next season.
Carrigaline are flying, hammering Youghal last weekend and their frame of mind gas to be strong.
Castlelyons are in a similar situation, they have been scoring well too and whilst he only scored a point against Inniscarra last weekend, Colm Spillane’s move from defence to attack has worked the oracle.
In both Carrigalline and Castlelyons, there is a lot of experience running through the ranks, players like Colm Barry, Colm Spillane, Anthony Spillane, Eoin Maye, Niall O’Leary, Anthony Spillane and Anthony Fenton for the East Cork team.
Wes O’Brien, David Drake, Rob O’Shea, Denis McBarron and others are hurling well for Carrigaline and there will be no shortage of confidence going forward.
The Hill are going very well too, three from three, you cannot get better than that and their quarter-final with Courceys will be a no quarter asked or given game.
Blarney have plenty of experience too and their game with Ballincollig is sure to be a good, old-fashioned Mid Cork derby between two sides not a million miles apart.
Danny Dwyer will be delighted to have got Ballincollig through a tough, no-nonsense group and to be ahead of Ballinhassig and Valley Rovers at the end was a fine achievement.
There are two East Cork teams, two from Mid Cork and two from the South-east in the last six.
That’s a good spread and it all makes for a compelling finale to a competition that has rarely failed to disappoint since its introduction.
Unfortunately, for Blackrock and Valley Rovers, they must prepare for a relegation showdown but that’s the way it is, they had three games to do the business and the ball just didn’t roll their way.
Who will be champions at the end of it all? I am not brave enough to call it, it would take a real brave fella to do that!