THE decision of the Cork County Board to reduce the number of teams that qualify from the round-robin stage into the knockout stage of the Cork County SHC from three to two is perfectly understandable.
Given the time constraints this season it was the only way to go and it certainly is going to add a more cutting edge to the games.
The margin for error is considerably reduced and some big names are not going to qualify for the knockout stages.
Take Group 1 in the Senior Premier Championship, which consists of Midleton, Sarsfields, Douglas and Ballyhea.
With respect to Ballyhea, if you had three teams going through you would expect the two east Cork clubs and Douglas to advance.
Now, however, one of that trio is going to be gone after the group stage and that could lead to some cracking games when these sides come face to face.
All three will believe that they can move forward, but that can’t happen.
The opening game features Midleton against Sars and what potential thatholds. We are certainly not ruling out Ballyhea causing a surprise and they are the team that will go into the games with everything to gain.
In a one-off game, you can’t rule anything out.
Group 1 could well be described as a ‘Group of Death’. Midleton and Sars will be fancied to emerge, but Douglas will havethe opportunity to finally make a statement and fulfil their potential.
In Group 2 you have the Rockies, Newtownshandrum, Bishopstown and Erin’s Own.
This is arguably the toughest group of the three with the Rockies, Erin’s Own and Newtown the more fancied three. However, you would rule the Town out at your peril.
Blackrock were dumped out of the championship last season by Newtown and Erin’s Own did not have a good season.
Selecting two to go through from this group is very difficult, but two prominent clubs will not be having an extended season.
In the third group you have the Glen, the Barrs, Na Piarsaigh, and Carrigtwohill. This is another group where a big name or two is going to fail.
The Glen will be favourites to emerge,but with two city derbies to negotiate, they won’t take anything for granted.
It must also be remembered that Carrigtwohill have won the title more recently than the Barrs and Na Piarsaigh and they were in the semi-final last season.
This group is a kind of mini city championship and it will be helter-skelter to see who comes through.
So in all three groups, and with just six teams from the 12 going forward, the county board has some very interesting times ahead when the championship sets sail.
For what it’s worth here are our six — Sars, Midleton, Blackrock, Erin’s Own, the Glen, and the Barrs.
Now we could be way out, as more often than not we are, but the group stages of the SHC has a lot more potential now than it had when you had three teams going through initially.
In the Senior A Championship, each of the three groups of four also seem to have plenty to offer.
In Group 1 you have Newcestown, Killeagh, Kanturk, and Cloyne and selecting two from that quartet isn’t easy.
Newcestown will be going in both senior codes and that could be a problem, but you would still fancy them. Selecting one from the two east Cork teams and Kanturk in what is a hugely competitive group is a difficult task.
In Group 2 you have huge potential with Fermoy, Mallow, Charleville, and Bandon.
Now that’s a group of death, a north Cork championship on its own with Bandon thrown in.
Selecting three from that quartet was going to be very difficult, now with just the two going through it’s next to impossible.
In fact, of the six senior groups this is probably the one that has the most level playing field.
In the final group of the Senior A competition you have newcomers Fr O’Neill’s and Kilworth and joining them are Ballymartle and Bride Rovers.
Two novices at this level against two seasoned teams.
The east Cork derby will tell a lot, but again selecting two to go through is not easy.
With just two teams going through the SHC now has far greater potential and we could have a few surprise outcomes.
And one must remember this is a season like no other.