IT just gets better and better for the Cork GAA County Board as regards their new format for the hurling championship season.
The group stage of the Premier senior championship could not have gone better, right down to the last few pucks in the final games last Saturday night.
Douglas were the big winners, securing a place in the knockout stages by defeating Midleton, one of the more fancied sides at the season’s outset.
This was a huge win for Douglas and they must take confidence from it and have a greater belief in what they are capable of achieving.
This was a big scalp, but what lies ahead will be every bit as tough, a local derby with Blackrock, the latter one of the most impressive sides in the chase for the title, thus far.
The Glen would be waiting in the semi-final, but that’s of no relevance right now, and it’s all about building on what they achieved in Páirc Ui Chaoimh last Saturday night.
It won’t be easy, but Douglas must believe that anything is possible now and when you win a game like they did against Midleton, it has to put you in the perfect frame of mind for whatever lies ahead.
Douglas are not as fancied as the Glen, Sars, and the Rockies, but this championship is now becoming a fairly level playing field.
Of course, no stage of the championship would be complete without an East Cork derby and we have a cracker to look forward to between Sars and Erin’s Own.
This is a real derby tie, players on either side resident in the parish of the other.
Sars have done everything right up to now and have shown why they are the fancy of so many to regain the title that has been theirs four times since 2008.
Some of that winning team of 2008 are still back-boning the side and there’s a wealth of experience running through the ranks, alongside plenty of youthful exuberance.
They’ll be favourites against Erin’s Own, but that will suit Martin Bowen and his management team.
The Caherlag side have exhibited great character in some of their games in the group, staging a thrilling comeback against Bishopstown, when all seemed lost, and then securing a last-gasp goal against Newtown to make it through to this showdown with their very near neighbours.
They are maintaining their push right to the last whistle and that’s a sign of the character in the side.
They got out of a tough group and Sars will now be very wary of their challenge, and in a game like this the tag of favourites goes out the window.
The Glen’s remarkable consistency in this championship since 2014 continues. They might have lost the final comprehensively that year, but what has transpired since has been very admirable.
They have won two finals, lost another, and knocked on the door every time, and team boss, Richie Kelleher, deserves immense credit for the work he’s done, and continues to do, in Blackpool.
After that 2014 loss to Sars, a lesser management team and players would not have recovered and they are now right where they want to be.
To be the team that went straight through to a semi-final from the group stage is a fine achievement.
University College Cork and Na Piarsaigh might not have been fancied by many to be involved at the business end of the campaign, but they are there now and must be given due respect, even if they are the outsiders of the seven teams remaining.
The ’Barr’s are not involved — their season is done — but they did sign off on a very positive note against a Carrigtwohill side that might have been fancied by some to add to their earlier woes. But that did not happen and the bounce that was expected with a new management team was forthcoming.
And maybe, just maybe, there are better days ahead for this great club. With young guns like Ethan Twomey and Jack Cahalane going to be a year older, and a year wiser, next season, that should be the case.
Cork hurling needs the Barrs challenging at the business end of every campaign and nobody took any joy from their results against the Glen and Na Piarsaigh.
They are on the outside looking in, for now, but there must be renewed optimism in the great hurling homes in blues country. It has been a fascinating championship, thus far, and the pity has to be that so few have been present in the flesh to witness it.
One does not know what the situation will be when it resumes again in two weeks’ time, but can you imagine what the attendance levels would be if the gates were open?
People are just desperate to go and watch a match and they have to be allowed.
We have seen two county finals, in County Wexford and in County Waterford, over the past two weeks and no fans present, lifelong supporters kept away and unable to share in the joy of their side winning.
It’s just not right and whilst we fully realise that we are a long way away from having the big attendances present again, surely a couple oof hundred souls can be accommodated safely.
Anyway, it is what it is and, right now, we are in the midst of what is turning out to be a wonderful Cork County Senior Hurling Championship and it’s likely to get a lot better.