LEAVING aside the growing uncertainty with sporting fixtures across the world, the Cork Senior Hurling Championship is still over a month in the distance.
The hurling question, as it looms larger on the horizon, is: can Imokilly be stopped in their tracks in their bid for four in a row of titles?
The East Cork divisional unit has dominated the landscape over the past three seasons and nobody can argue with that dominance because they have applied themselves so well to the task.
While the rest of the divisions have made little or no effort, they have done the complete opposite, preparing diligently since the start of each season.
They have been known to travel long distances to play challenge games in other counties and have never had less than 20 players travelling for those games.
For the coming season they will be without the Fr O’Neill’s and Cloyne players because they are now elevated to the senior grade, O’Neill’s as a result of winning the PIHC last season and Cloyne because of the competition’s restructuring.
That will hit them, losing players like Deccie Dalton, Ger Millerick, Mark O’Keeffe and Billy Dunne, as well as Paudie O’Sullivan. However, the depth of their squad is still going to be strong.
It’s difficult to envisage any other division having any sort of an impact and the Colleges, UCC and Cork IT won’t be able to put in the necessary preparation.
So it’s going to be the usual list of likely candidates that are likely to be challenging Imokilly’s dominance again.
Foremost among them should be the Glen, Blackrock, Sarsfields and Midleton.
All four have suffered at the hands of the East Cork divisional team in recent years, the Rockies, Midleton and the Glen losing in finals to them.
However, it’s not a certainty that the losing sequence of those clubs will continue and there was only little more than a puck of a ball between themselves and the Glen last season.
And there’s no reason why the Blackpool team can’t be challenging strongly again over the coming months.
Richie Kelleher knows what it takes to win county titles with these Glen players and the way he and his selectors reinvented the team after the 2014 county final loss was a huge achievement.
Midleton have brought in Ben O’Connor to coach the team and he has enough good hurlers at his disposal to ensure that they should be in the mix.
He did an immense job with Charleville and he’ll also get the most out of these Midleton players who, it’s fair to say, have underachieved since the title-winning year of 2013.
Sars have been knocking on the door on a yearly basis since they made the big breakthrough in 2008 and subsequently won a total of four titles.
They have to be bracketed in the list of leading contenders again and they have a great blend of youth and experience in the squad, having won the U21 county last season.
Also they have Conor O’Sullivan and Danny Kearney now fully concentrated on the club and that’s a plus in itself.
The Rockies were in a final very recently and acquitted themselves very well against Imokilly and they won the Red FM Cork County SHL last year.
And that was very important from their viewpoint.
They also won the lower tier of the IHC last season so it could be said that things are really beginning to stir in Church Road again.
They were hugely disappointed to lose to Newtownshandrum last season but winning the SHL was a measure of compensation.
Of the rest of the chasing pack, the Barrs have made progress in recent times and new team boss Aidan Fitzpatrick will get the best out of the players in Togher.
As a player there was none more wholehearted and he’ll expect the same from the players at his disposal.
Of course, the championship this season has a brand new format, split into two competitions and that will give us more games.
Fr O’Neill’s are now a senior club and have the resources, it would appear, to make a big impact in the Senior A grade.
In fact, they are one of the more fancied teams in that section.
Going back to the Premier grade, Martin Bowen is back with Erin’s Own and he’ll have them ready for whatever tests lie ahead.
Newtown always have the potential to trouble the best of teams but probably lack the depth now to regain former glories for the time being.
That brings us on to Douglas, a club that has underachieved too. ]
The potential is clearly there each year without being delivered.
The base is there each season to be doing much better but getting over the line for the first time has been a problem for more than Douglas down through the years.
Bride Rovers are another team capable of troubling the best of opponents and there’s a lot of good, young hurlers coming through in Rathcormac.
With a new format, it’s always a trip into the unknown and it will certainly be interesting to watch it develop.
However, it’s unlikely that we’ll have an outsider racing through the field like Carrigtwohill did in 2011 when, as a 100/1 shot they went all the way.
Then again they had great hurlers like Niall McCarthy, Noel Furlong, Micky ‘Da’ Fitzgerald, Seanie Farrell and Rob White to start with But back to the starting question, can Imokilly be stopped?
We’ll have to wait and see and, right now with so much uncertainty surrounding the future of all sporting events, it’s going to be a waiting game.