THE confirmation from Cork GAA of upcoming fixtures has lit a fire under the long-suffering socially isolated county faithful.
After months of conjecture from all quarters, we now know what we can expect and when we can expect to see it – all things going well of course.
Hurlers and footballers around the county have been collectively back on the training pitches of Cork getting some well-needed bonding and some heavy hits in and now they all know when and who they will face – even if the where is still a little up in the air.
One club side that is relishing getting back to competitive ways are no stranger to big days on a hurling field after making it to Croke Park twice in the last decade.
Charleville’s senior hurlers are, like most other teams in the land, back preparing for their tilt at a county title – and while the trophy may be new the ambitions remain the same – win a county.
Drawn in one of the most competitive groups in any of the county competitions this season, Charleville will look to show their worth right from the off when they take on highly regarded Bandon in the opening game of a round-robin series that also involves games with North Cork neighbours Mallow and Fermoy.
Cork legend Ben O’Connor has left the club for pastures new, in Midleton. The Newtown man’s departure opened up the managerial role which has been filled, for the second time, by local favourites Claude Gough.
Gough and his charges have been going about their business in a calm and professional manner since the lockdown began however from this point on they are focused on one thing, that opening game with a highly fancied Bandon side.
“It is really exciting to think that we are getting back to playing. The group we are in will be so competitive. Each team in there has their own claim and while some may see us as slight favourites because of our trajectory over the last few years each of the other three have great squads and some very talented individuals.
“This mini-competition is very much a local derby competition with all four sides knowing each other very well. Four sides that have been there or thereabouts at the latter stages in the intermediate grade over the last few years and now senior – all will want to get off to the best possible start and will look to play the best players they can for as long as they can.
“It will be very important to keep your best players fit for as long as possible in this year’s championship and that is as important for Charleville as it is for the rest. The season could be over before you really get going if you start slowly so it is critical to start as fast as possible and put your best foot forward.”
When it comes to top players in the red and white of the 2019 All-Ireland intermediate finalists two names stand out - and both bring very different gifts to the party.
“Danny O’Flynn and Darragh Fitzgibbon are hugely important players for us – both on and off the field. Darragh gives everything for every team he plays with and is obviously one of the best hurlers in the county. When Darragh is at training the levels to rise, that is the kind of thing he brings. Darragh is a hugely significant player for us.
“Danny, on the other hand, is just one of the most inspirational players we have. Whether Danny is on the pitch or not you know you are going to get 100%. His dedication to Charleville is phenomenal and that is the way he carries himself in all facets.”
Gough will lead Charleville back into action against Bandon on the opening weekend of the senior hurling championship at the end of this month with former stars Mervyn Gammell and Brendan Dennehy by his side as selectors and while the destination is the least of everyone’s’ concern the new manager has his preference.
“I think we really like Páirc Uí Rinn. If that is where the game is played that would be good.
"Pairc Uí Rinn is a great surface and has been good to us over the years but honestly, at this stage we would play anywhere. It is just great to be getting back into championship hurling.”