'There's always pressure on Blackrock hurlers but we welcome the expectation'

'There's always pressure on Blackrock hurlers but we welcome the expectation'
Blackrock's Mark O'Keeffe scores the first of his two goals as Bishopstown's Sean Murphy looks on. Picture: George Hatchell

BLACKROCK have been hugely impressive in the Premier Senior Hurling Championship so far.

Three victories, over Erin's Own, Newtown and Bishopstown, with 2-16, 2-26 and 4-15 tallied. That type of scoring will win most matches but despite topping their group, their reward is a difficult quarter-final against Douglas.

Glen Rovers nabbed the number one seeding and will face the winner of Sars-Erin's Own in the semis. If the Rockies get the better of their neighbours, it's UCC or Na Piarsaigh in the last four.

Blackrock manager Fergal Ryan said their priority last Saturday evening in Ballyanley was just to get the job done.

"Scoring difference wasn't on our agenda, albeit there was an eye on it, from the point of view of where we'd end up. We knew Bishopstown would be hard to beat, first and foremost, and we wanted to win our three games and get through on a positive note.

"We're very happy. It's Douglas, but we were going to be playing a good team no matter who it was. There are only six left."

With a shot of their players involved St Michael's Senior A Football campaign, Blackrock are perhaps at a slight disadvantage compared to Douglas, whose dual players picked between hurling and football for 2020.

"For ourselves and Michael's it would be great to have separate panels but that just isn't realistic. You just have to manage it as best you can. 

"The lads who play football won't be doing any hurling next week, they'll be concentrating on playing Skibb and that's the agreement we made before the championship. 

"We'll train with the rest of the lads. We've a big panel and with our intermediates fighting relegation, we'll still have 26 or 27 at training. We're lucky that way."

The Rockies have considerable depth to their panel, a byproduct of a decade of minor and U21 success. 

Without three key hurlers against Town who had been holidaying abroad, they were able to re-introduce Niall Cashman into the defence and get Michael O'Halloran on in the second half, when he fired in a tasty goal.

"Tadhg Deasy, Conor O'Brien and John Cash were away. They're back but in the current climate they had to sit out and safety comes first but they'll be available for the quarter-final.

"Niall Cashman played his first senior game and we got Mike back in and he took his goal very well. Competitions for places is what you want as a manager."

While Glen Rovers are obvious favourites for the Seán Óg Murphy Cup, by virtue of their current form and reaching last year's final, Blackrock are knocking on the door for a while now too. They made the decider in 2017 and came as close to any team to defeating Imokilly during the three-in-a-row era.

There's talk that it's time for the Rockies to deliver.

"There's always pressure. We put that pressure on ourselves anyway. I don't think about any expectation around the club or even outside that because we have our own expectation regardless. Every group does."

Notwithstanding the short gaps between games for dual players, the 1999 All-Ireland winner with Cork believes the new championship format on Leeside has produced a decent standard of action and plenty of drama.

Fergal Ryan in action against Michael Duignan in the 1999 All-Star game in Boston. Picture: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE
Fergal Ryan in action against Michael Duignan in the 1999 All-Star game in Boston. Picture: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

With some impressive figures in the management, including John Browne and former Cork underage trainer Stephen Casey, Ryan said they adapted to the Covid-enforced delay well.

"It was very different but at the same time it was a big leveller as you couldn't do anything and all clubs were in the same boat." 

Can they consider this season is a success so far?

"It's a bad season if you don't win a county! Sure look we were there in 2017 against Imokilly and we'd chances to win that game and didn't take them. 

"You also have the success these lads have had underage and the tradition the club has. It's all part of it. You wouldn't want it any other way really."

And with the medals to back it up at club and inter-county level, Ryan knows.

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