GROUP 2 in the Bon Secours county senior A football championship is one of the most competitive in the entire code never mind the second tier itself.
Before the start, you could have thrown a blanket over Éire Óg, Mallow, Kiskeam and Bantry Blues because of how close they were in terms of ability and predicting the final standings represented a huge challenge.
First-round victories for Éire Óg over Bantry and Kiskeam pipping Mallow loosened matters a touch, but all that could change again with crunch games over the weekend.
Éire Óg, winners of the premier intermediate championship last season, face Mallow in Mourneabbey tomorrow evening at 7.30pm and this promises to be a belter.
The Ovens club has serious potential along with long-proven ability in areas, notably in attack, where 2010 All-Ireland winners, Daniel Goulding and Ciaran Sheehan, provide stern tests for any defence.
In their 0-13 to 0-7 victory over Bantry, Goulding led the way by scoring 0-8, an impressive haul which included five frees, a 45 and one from the sideline.
But, there’s a lot more to them than just this pair because Colm O’Callaghan, scorer of 0-2, featured in Cork’s All-Ireland U20 triumph in 2019 as did Jack Murphy, who will start centre-forward either side of Sheehan and O’Callaghan.
Throw in keeper Chris Kelly, full-back John Mullins and midfielder Ronan O’Toole and you’ve another trio of players with Cork experience while O’Toole’s partner in the middle, Liam Sheehan, is a capable operator too.
Mallow had to contend without the injured pair of Cork defender James Loughrey and key forward Cian O’Riordan in their 2-11 to 1-11 defeat by Kiskeam.
The flying Mattie Taylor is set to line-out at centre-back and the Cork wing-back is sure to venture forward at every opportunity.
Mallow’s forward division has capable finishers in Ryan Harkin, Kevin Sheehan and Eoin Kelleher, who between them contributed 1-7.
It’s backs-to-the-wall for the Avondhu club, knowing a second defeat would scupper their chances of progressing to the knock-out stage.
And Bantry are in the same situation going into their game against Kiskeam in Clondrohid tomorrow afternoon at 3pm.
Cork star Ruairí Deane only played the second half of the Éire Óg encounter following his long lay-off from a hamstring injury that required surgery.
His availability from the start would obviously present a major boost for the west Cork club and a big lift to the rest of the team.
Bantry will need a greater return than just 0-7 from the first day when Tim Foley kicked three frees and Arthur Coakley landed two from play.
Billy Foley, centre-back on the Cork U20s this season, is another influential player.
Kiskeam’s victory over Mallow was a great fillip with goals from Sean O’Sullivan and Gene Casey and three points from Tom O’Sullivan.
Keeper Anthony Casey and Sean Meehan have Cork experience and Bantry have it all to do here.
Fermoy should consolidate their position in Group 2 against Clyda Rovers following their 1-15 to 0-10 win over Dohenys, when Martin Brennan, Padraig de Roiste and Brian O’Sullivan scored 0-10 between them.
Clyda lost to Bandon by 1-12 to 0-6 despite having Ray Carey, Fionn O’Shea, Paudie Kissane and the exciting Conor Corbett.
Dohenys must overcome Bandon to remain in contention. Mark Sugrue and Mark O’Regan did the bulk of the scoring against Clyda.
Cork defender Peter Murphy at centre-back and midfielder David Crowley also impressed.
The Dunmanway club will look to Eoin Lavers, Mark Buckley and Fionn Herlihy.
Group 1 is expected to leave O’Donovan Rossa and St Michael’s as qualifiers with a game to spare.
Skibbereen face Ballingary after routing St Nick’s, when Kevin Davis, Donal Óg Hodnett, Elliott Connolly and David Shannon ran riot.
Ballingeary lost to St Michael’s by 3-16 to 0-14 with Diarmuid Mac Thomais top scoring with 0-5.
Eoghan Buckley, Dan Lenihan and Keith Hegarty scored goals for the Mahon club, who should be too strong for Nick’s.
Group 1: O’Donovan Rossa v Ballingeary, Ballinacarriga, 3pm.
Group 2: Kiskeam v Bantry Blues, Clondrohid, 3pm; Mallow v Éire Óg, Mourneabbey, 7.30
Group 1: St Nick’s v St Michael’s, Mayfield, 2pm.
Group 3: Fermoy v Clyda Rovers, Killavullen, 2pm; Dohenys v Bandon, Ahiohill, 4pm.