IMOKILLY begin their quest for an unprecedented fourth consecutive county senior hurling championship title against UCC at Páirc Uí Rinn on Sunday at 7pm.
It’s the final of the divisions/colleges section of the Co-Op Superstores sponsored premier grade event and at stake is a place in the quarter-final of the county proper against the sixth-ranked club, yet to be determined.
This season Imokilly won’t have Fergal Condon on board as manager following his historic innings over the last three years when the east Cork representatives proved the kings of hurling in the county.
Lisgoold’s Ciaran Cronin is now at the helm, having been a member of the selection committee along with Jimmy Smiddy and Sean Harnedy who remain on as well to ensure continuity.
Derek Barrett opted out as coach with Aghada’s Alan Morrissey stepping in.
There will be a significant change in playing personnel, however, because Fr O’Neill’s are now operating at senior A level and their players are ineligible as a consequence.
It means the holders won’t have the services of scoring machine Declan Dalton in attack or Ger Millerick in defence, Mark O’Keeffe at midfield or Billy Dunne up front either.
To counter-act their absences, though, the champions can call on the likes of Colm Spillane (Castlelyons), Barry Lawton (Castlemartyr) or Ciaran O’Brien (St Ita’s), who were all injured in 2019.
And their prospects have been further boosted by the availability of Niall O’Leary (Castlelyons), who wore the skull and crossbones jersey of UCC last season, but who is now in the red and white stripes of his division.
His inter-county experience is an important to the team’s bid for success, as is midfielder Bill Cooper (Youghal) and key forward Seamus Harnedy (St Ita’s).
There’s also a sprinkling of talented youngsters keen to showcase their talents with Joe Stack (Castlelyons), Shane Óg O’Regan (Watergrasshill) and Liam O’Shea (Lisgoold) all bidding for starting positions.
Dalton’s absence will be felt in particular because he was responsible for some of the remarkable high scores accumulated by Imokilly in their three-in-row.
For example, last season they registered 0-34 against Midleton in round 3 followed by 3-19 against St Finbarr’s in the semi-final and their 2-17 sufficed against Glen Rovers in the decider.
This is the strangest of all seasons and much will depend on Imokilly’s hunger and desire particularly as preparations wouldn’t have been the same as in other campaigns.
College have the benefit of playing a semi-final midweek when they also posted an impressive 3-22 against Duhallow.
The students paraded 11 players from Cork clubs and supplied the same number of scorers in a team that was backboned by a sterling half-back line.
It comprised Cork’s Mark Coleman from Blarney on one wing with the two Paddys, Cadell from Tipperary and O’Loughlin from Limerick, completing a formidable sector.
College also had their own prolific marksman in Kerry’s Shane Conway leading the attack and he was joint top scorer on the evening.
As with all College teams at this time of the year, much will depend on the availability of players from outside Cork and with a 7pm start, there’s bound to be a couple of cars dashing to the venue.
UCC may also consider this is the best time to take on the champions and have a right cut at dethroning them.
Meanwhile, the football equivalent was stalled because of a combination of injuries and the weather. There were meant to be two semi-finals on Wednesday evening, but neither went ahead.
Beara pulled out of their game with Duhallow, last season’s beaten finalists, due to a high injury count, though the game wouldn’t have been played either because of Storm Ellen.
Beara’s numbers are limited enough and their team is based around players from premier intermediate club Castletownbere and intermediate A side Adrigole, a pair who’ve been busy of late.
Wisely, the other game involving UCC and Carbery was postponed because of risks surrounding the storm and this was refixed for Thursday, with the College also progressing.
They now meet Duhallow for a place in the quarter-final of the Bon Secours sponsored championship.