THIS was meant to be the year when Mallow got their chance to shine with the form Senior A hurling teams in the county.
When the group draw was made, few local hurling fans would have missed what has to be one of the most competitive groups at any grade in the county championship this season — Group 2.
If you were to handpick a mini ‘group of death’ with four sides of equal measure then placing Mallow, Fermoy, Charleville, and Bandon into the same pot would surely fit the bill.
Sport thrives on rivalries, particularly local ones, and in Group 2 of this season’s Senior A Hurling Championship, there was more than one game that had grudge-match written all over it.
Three North Cork urban-based sides with a Bandon team no strangers to the other protagonists was assured as one of the most unpredictable and exciting groups in Cork competitions this season.
In recent years, both Charleville and Bandon claimed the intermediate title, with Fermoy and Mallow having to settle for second-best during their respective showpiece games — little or nothing between these four clubs over the last five or six years lends itself to a rip-roaring round robin before the knockout competition starts in earnest.
This year sees Mallow start with many of the same faces on the pitch. However, the management team of Ger Manly (manager), and selectors Gerry Murphy, Mark Roche, and Philip ‘Philly’ Hayesare new, hungry, and eager to answer what is a challenging, but hopefully rewarding, calling on the banks of the Blackwater.
Despite being a native of the hurling heartlands of Thurles, Hayes is no stranger to managing Mallow at underage. He feels that the job to be done at Mallow provides him and his fellow management team with a great opportunity to show their wares, while also bringing on one of the sleeping giants of Cork GAA.
“I suppose people look at Carrigoon and the facilities we have in Mallow, and they expect more from the club’s teams, but in truth, despite all the positives we have in Mallow, and the wonderful facilities at our disposal Mallow doesn’t have an infinite amount of talent coming through every year.
“We have some wonderful athletes and sportsmen in our squad, but the list isn’t endless. We all know about dropout rates and the fact that there are plenty other sports to compete with, but despite this, I think we are doing very well with the people we have here.
“We have hugely talented players like Cormac Murphy, Fionn O’Neill, the Hayes’ and Paul Lyons, to name just a few. Every player that plays for Mallow is worth their place and every one of them give it all for Mallow every time they go on the field.
“We also have a loyal support and some very dedicated behind-the-scenes people that keep this show on the road.”
Prior to the Covid-19 lockdown, Hayes and his colleagues were beginning to get a handle on the squad they had inherited — however, that all came to a sudden halt as the coronavirus hit Ireland.
“We did a small bit of indoor with the lads before Christmas then we started back in January, and at that stage, I think we were all kind of happy enough with how the lads were going,” he says.
“Our approach at the start of the year was to get as many games as we could. We could have had seven or eight challenge matches played before we had to stop for Covid, and we also had two league matches played as well, so you could see where we were going with it.
“The idea was that you really get to see how your lads are performing in games — even challenge games. Games give you a close-up on how fellows are going, how they are reacting to different scenarios, and things like that. Of course it is still early, but we all know there’s nothing like games. You want players to be match fit.
“Training is structured, managed, and you go through the drills, but that is all different in a game.
“Players, as well as management, need to react and deal with what is happening in front of them during games, and that is where we are coming from.”
The current return-to-play plan gives hope that we will in fact get to see Group 2 of this season’s Senior A Hurling Championship take place after all, and whether there are fans present or not, there will be plenty of interest in every game that takes to the field.