THE group stages of the 2020 Cork Premier Senior Hurling Championship concludes this weekend with every single one of the 12 clubs involved having something to play for.
The goals of each club might be different; some are looking to secure the top seed berth, and the one guaranteed semi-final spot, others are looking to secure second place in their group, and the quarter-final spot that comes with it, while the sides at the bottom of each group are looking for a way to avoid the dreaded relegation final.
A quick refresher on the format is necessary at this point. One team, the best group winner, will progress straight to the semi-final.
There will be three quarter-finals, involving the other two group winners, the three group runners-up and the winners of Imokilly-UCC. Relegation will be one game between the two lowest-ranked clubs from the three groups.
In Group 1 leaders Sarsfields face bottom side Ballyhea. Sars will be looking for a huge win as they have 11 points to make up on the other two group leaders Glen Rovers and Blackrock, in the hunt for top spot.
Ballyhea will, of course, have other ideas, as they require a win or even a draw to avoid the relegation final, as they have 17 points to make up, in terms of points difference, on the third worst side, Bishopstown in Group 2.
One of the ties of the round could come in the other game when Midleton and Douglas face off with the winner guaranteed a quarter-final spot, and the other finishing up for the year. With Conor Lehane, Shane Kingston and Alan Cadogan in such scintillating form, it could well come down to which defence can restrict the star attackers the most.
Group 2 is almost identical to Group 1 in that the leaders face the bottom side, and the other game is also a straight knockout tie. Blackrock face bottom side Bishopstown knowing that a big scoreline would give them a great chance of securing the top spot, given that they are 11 points ahead of Sars on scoring difference.
As well as that, the other group leaders Glen Rovers have a tougher game, on paper, even if the Rockies and the Glen currently have identical scoring differences.
A relatively narrow defeat may be enough to save Bishopstown, but they will be watching how Ballyhea and the Barrs fare in their games.
Erin's Own v Newtownshandrum is the straight knockout game in the group. The 15 people who manage to get into Glantane could be in for a treat in that one, and it’s really hard to call a winner there.
In Group 3 there are two intriguing ties, with leaders Glen Rovers facing Na Piarsaigh in a northside derby, while Carrigtwohill play bottom side St Finbarr’s.
You would imagine that the Glen will require a sizeable win to get the top seed spot, as the likelihood is that one of Sars or the Rockies will put up a big score against the bottom sides in their groups. Na Piarsaigh were quite impressive against the Barrs the last time out at Páirc Uí Rinn, however, so the odds are against the Glan in this respect.
In fact, Na Piarsaigh will go into this game knowing that a win would see them win the group, so that will be a huge motivation, not that they need much playing their near neighbours.
Carrigtwohill v the Barrs is another interesting one. Carrig will be hoping that the Glen beat Na Piarsaigh, and will be hoping that the margin Na Piarsaigh lose by, and the margin they themselves win by is enough to cover the current 14 point deficit that separates the two on scoring difference.
The Barrs have been really disappointing in their two games to date, with them currently being the worst side in the competition based on scoring difference. They have a slight advantage over the other two bottom sides in that Ballyhea and Bishopstown play the top sides in each group whereas the Barrs face the side that currently lie third in Group 3.
Therefore, this would appear the best chance on paper of their being a positive result for one of the bottom sides, but the Barr’s have to go and prove that they are good enough, because to date they have been way off the pace.
Perhaps the re-jig at managerial level, that has occurred in the past week, might give the Barr’s enough of a bounce to help them avoid the dreaded relegation final, but Carrigtwohill have always been a tough nut to crack in championship action, and it could be a painful hour for the famous southside club.