DESPITE the absence of supporters it has to be said that the group stage of the five Cork hurling championships have gone very well thus far.
And with so much on the line for so many clubs in the third game and subsequently in the knockout stages of each competition, there is much to look forward to.
Despite a number of teams being elevated to the Senior A championship, the PIHC continues to be hugely competitive.
This has been regarded as one of the most difficult of all the grades to win, the playing field has been very level from year to year and unlike the SHC, when at the outset of each season you could pencil in four or five teams that would be battling it out for the ultimate prize, the number of leading contenders has been much more.
There is a huge prize for the winners, the opportunity to become a senior club which is the aim of every club.
Looking at the PIHC season up to now and how the results have panned out the leading teams in line for graduation to the bigger stage would appear to be Castlelyons, Carrigaline and Watergrasshill.
All three have booked their places in the knockout stages but, of course, that’s not saying one of them will end up as champions.
In putting those three down on paper is based very much on the two games that they have played.
Castlelyons lost a final a few years ago to Youghal by the narrowest of margins but didn’t push on since.
They have had two very impressive wins to date, defeating Blackrock and Blarney.
To win any championship or to be in with a shout it is always necessary to have a hardened core of experience in your team and Castlelyons seen to have that in the likes of Jack and Colm Barry, the Spillane brothers and Eon Maye.
Colm Spillane has been receiving a lot of attention because of his scoring exploits as against his defensive prowess.
New team boss, former star player Ciaran McGann outlined in a radio interview last Sunday why the management team had went with the Cork star in attack and why it has yielded a dividend so far.
For too long now, Carrigaline have blown hot and cold in this championship but they are one of the clubs that the dual mandate hasn’t helped.
Last week against Aghada and down to 14 men they secured a fine win, adding two more points to the two they had collected against Courcey Rovers.
Again they have that core of experience in their side, Wes O’Brien, David Drake, Rob O’Shea, Robert Foster in goal and David Griffin.
Brian Kelleher has been putting up the scores for them and they must be a team to watch as the championship develops.
Watergrasshill have full points too, defeating Ballincollig and Ballinhassig and have impressed in both games.
They have very good hurlers in the side in Paddy O’Regan, the two Shane O’Regans, Kevin O’Neill and Sean Desmond who notched up 1-4 against Ballinhassig.
Those are just three teams that appear to be going in the right direction but, in truth, this premier intermediate championship continues to be a minefield.
Blarney might have lost to Castlelyons last weekend but they cannot be ruled out while Ballinhassig have always been a very difficult hurdle to overcome.
Ballincollig had a fine win over Valley Rovers and you cannot really rule out any side still in with an opportunity of reaching the knockout stages.
In the two grades of the lower IHC, both of them appear to be wide open. Éire Óg had a big win over Douglas in their last game in the IAHC and surely this is a side to keep a very close eye on.
There’s a wealth of experience in the team, Kevin Hallissey, Daniel Goulding, Ciarán Sheehan, Ronan O’Toole, Eoin O’Shea among others.
A lot of those players are key footballers too and the hope for them is that they don’t fall between two stools as so many other clubs have.
In fact, being a dual club is tougher now that it has been because you are playing week in, week out.
In the lower IHC, St Catherine’s and Catlemartyr are going nicely but it’s still very early days yet.
Overall, though, it must be said that all the grades are simmering along well and it should be a very interesting few weeks right up to the finals.
The decision to go with the new group format has been a great success up to now.