AS they count down to their eagerly-awaited county Lower IHC semi-final against St Catherine’s, Russell Rovers players are feeling a real sense of familiarity.
It is the fourth consecutive year the club has reached the penultimate stage of a county competition, having won their two most recent excursions into the last four of the junior championship.
Interestingly in the year preceding — 2017, Rovers were denied what would have been the first of three successive semi wins by St Catherine's, who overcame the Shanagarry-based club for the second time in a few months.
In September of 2017, St Catherine’s prevented Rovers winning what would have been a maiden junior divisional title, edging a contest in Midleton.
The two sides met again as winter dawned when the Ballynoe men won again by 3-17 to 2-10 to book a final palace.
They overcame Brian Dillon’s in a replayed final to be crowned county kingpins for the second time in their history.
Now the scene is set for a rematch, with Russell Rovers having blown away years of doubt and disappointment to revel in the club’s greatest ever era.
Their inaugural divisional triumph arrived against St Ita’s in Castlemartyr in 2018. A subsequent county final defeat to Clougduv only heightened the desire to go one better in 2019.
With Carraig na bhFear overcome in a late final flurry in East Cork, the county title followed as the same opposition were comfortably defeated in the decider.
Munster honours followed, before Conahy Shamrocks just proved too strong in mid-January in the All-Ireland final.
Russell Rovers are seasoning fast. Unbeaten in the group stages in their first journey into intermediate ranks, they accounted for a more experienced Milford in the quarter-final.
So, familiar territory awaits —a championship semi-final for the fourth year in a row and a chance to undo the 2017 scenario.
“Yes, there might be a bit of history between the clubs,” admits the Russell Rovers manager Michael Mannion.
“We just know they are a tough team and we respect them. But we will have our homework done, as they will also.
“We won’t be looking at this semi-final from a history point of view, instead it’s just about this year’s match. The intermediate grade is more physical than at junior level.
“The speed has also picked up at this level and I think it has taken us a few games to get to the right pace, but I think we are getting there.”