I THINK there are times when we forget or underestimate the political sporting skills demonstrated by Cork County Board CEO, Kevin O’Donovan, in pushing through his massively innovative fixtures structure document last year.
Most counties are probably conservative by nature but sometimes I get the impression that this one is near the top of the leaderboard when it comes to championship structure overhaul.
When you consider that Cork didn’t have a relegation, endeavouring to get the clubs to buy into one was a huge testament to O’Donovan’s political skills.
Make no mistake there were quite a few who felt threatened by the very mention of it.
Can I throw this figure at you?
From a position of no relegation in 2019, by the end of championship 2021, 20 Cork teams will be relegated from the nine main county competitions — 14 in hurling and six in football.
As I have mentioned previously the competition structure now in place in Cork has to be one of the best in the country and that is why so many are so eagerly looking forward to the Round 3 of the hurling this weekend and the equivalent in the football a week later.
As the vast majority of us won’t be able to attend in person, we will depend on social media, live streaming, local radio reports and post-match reports from a number of talented sports reporters attached to this parish to keep us in the frame.
In the premier senior hurling where all six games in the three groups will take place at 7pm on Saturday, it will be a case of do or die. A similar scenario will prevail in the other four championships.
Even though Blackrock, Glen Rovers and Sars — who top their respective groups and are all assured of a quarter-final spot — they will each want to win their Round 3 games in an effort to qualify for the one semi-final spot that’s on offer, not only that but the margin of victory could also be vital.
In group 1, Douglas will have to really step up to the plate and defeat Midleton if they want to secure one of the three quarter-final places that are available, a draw will do the magpies as they have a vastly superior scoring difference.
As I am not equipped with the skill set to devise a strategy for Douglas, but if their Kerry coach Shane Brick can come up with a defensive plan to curb the influence of Conor Lehane, a wee shock could be on the cards.
Make no mistake, it’s a glorious opportunity for the city team to convince the doubters and there are quite a few of them. In the other game in that group, Sars should defeat Ballyhea but the margin of victory could be vital to both.
For the north Cork team, this margin could be the difference between appearing in a relegation final and not. In group 2, can Bishopstown, the unluckiest team in the whole championship, stay the course for the full duration and deny Blackrock who right now are the favourites for that elusive semi-final spot, the outcome here, could very well be the surprise of the weekend.
Whatever about groups 1 and 2, group 3 will take some beating. St Finbarrs have no choice only to defeat Carrigtwohill if they are to avoid a relegation final and last week’s decision by Aidan Fitzpatrick to step down as their manager was an event that you would normally associate with professional soccer.
John Cremin has now taken over with a backroom staff that includes Ger Cunningham, Sean McCarthy and Ger O’Regan.
Many expect them to best Carrigtwohill but this east Cork team that on many occasions has given credence to the belief “that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts” will be no pushover. In actual fact, Carrigtwohill are the only team in this championship who are in the unique position that they can qualify for the quarter-final or the relegation final.
When Glen Rovers exposed the frailties that attached to St Finbarrs and Na Piarsaigh could only draw with the aforementioned Carrigtwohill in their Round 1 games, we were provided with the belief that the Glen were the only team from this group that was up to a victory speech.
Were we premature in our predictions?
Well, when the northside derby draws to a conclusion on Saturday evening at around 8.30pm, we will be more informed.
What a glorious opportunity for the young Na Piarsaigh players, particularly those that have played for Cork underage teams in the recent past, to illustrate that they are ready for the honours class.
Onto the Senior A where all the games throw-in at 4pm on Saturday, the battle for the two available semi-final slots is massive, Charleville, Fr O’Neills and Kanturk are all on four points with almost identical scoring differences.
All three will be favourites in their respective games against Fermoy, Ballymartle and Killeagh but again the victory margins could be vital. Do you know what, the more I think about the five championships, I am coming to the conclusion that each of the 15 groups involved are championships in themselves.
Mallow — a team that wouldn’t be at all comfortable sipping relegation wine — find themselves pointless after two games and akin to the Barrs in upper house, will have to get something from their game against Bandon.
However, the Lillywhites will be all out for victory as it would give them a real chance of qualifying. Can Kilworth rest easy if they are to emerge pointless from three attempts? They should make it difficult for Bride Rovers.
Newcestown, who once again have embraced their dual responsibilities should get over Cloyne and as a consequence make the real business end.
In the six premier intermediate hurling games who’s have a 7.30pm start tomorrow evening, two clubs — Courcey and Valley Rovers — who may have occupied some people’s pre-championship betting slips are only a defeat away from playing a Blackrock second team in a relegation decider (I know our friends in Rockies land will forgive us for assuming that they will lose to Blarney).
Right now, both southeast sides are pointless and there is a point between them in the scoring difference stakes.
The Ballinspittle side play Aghada who are still very much in contention and the Innishannon-based side face table-toppers Watergrasshill. I think that there will be quite an amount of fingernail tips ingested in both parishes during the duration of these two contests.
We could go on but can I make a final suggestion. Purchase five bags of popcorn and label them accordingly.
Fri 7.30pm PI.
Sat 4pm SA.
Sat 7pm PSH.
Sun 2pm IA.
Sun 4pm LI.
I promise you will not be disappointed.