OVER the past couple of seasons the Red FM SHL has grown in stature with the competing clubs paying a lot more attention to it and thus ensuring that after the early couple of rounds they are in good shape for the championship season.
Having a better structure in place too, a cut-off point for the completion of the group games and dates for the knockout stages has helped considerably. The final is played much earlier than it used to be and it’s what you might describe now as a proper competition.
There are some attractive fixtures penned in for the next couple of days, one of them being the game in Riverstown tomorrow night between the holders Blackrock and Sarsfields.
It’s the start of another season for one of Sarsfields’ most consistent players over the past decade and before that, Will Kearney, among Cork's best club defenders.
He’s eagerly looking forward to setting off on the trail again, hoping to add to his four county championship medals at the end of it.
“The desire, where I am concerned, is still massive. We have been in seven county finals in nine years, winning four and losing three. The ones that we lost are more in the memory than the ones that we won and I think for us this season is like a new start for us.
“We look at how last season ended with our U21s in the county final in a very close, tight game with Midleton and we were lucky to come out on the right side of it.
“We are looking for some of those lads to come through and challenge the older lads and have the makings of a new team.’’
Competition for places is intensifying all the time in Riverstown, something that Kearney believes keeps everybody firmly focused. “We believe ourselves that we have a good mix of players at the moment, players in their 30s, mid-20s and the younger players coming through.
“What we probably didn’t get right last year was blending it all in and what we’d be hoping for this time is to get that better.
“Some of the guys who were with Cork over the past few years are back in with us now so having them around all the time will be a big thing for us too.”
There’s a new format to the SHC this year, something that the teak-tough defender will add to the attractiveness of the competition.
“We are in a tough group in the new championship that includes Midleton and Douglas but our focus for now is the first league match with Blackrock.
“We got beaten by Blackrock last season in the league final so on Thursday night we’ll be looking to rectify that.
“This is the first year of the new championship structure and I think it could be brilliant.
“It’s also the first year that we went back in early January and there’s going to be greater emphasis on the performances in the league.
“You will need to bring those league performances into the championship from the get-go.”
He accepts that Imokilly have been the dominant force in the championship but it is up to the rest to knock them off their pedestal.
“We look back to the first year that Imokilly won the country when we were up a point with a minute to go and they drew the game with the last puck and it went to a replay.
“They were better than us in the replay but we still have a hangover from that and have not really got over it.
“We really want to right that wrong and I think that there is a great hunger and desire in Sars to do that.
“I think with the infusion of the younger guys coming in and the experience that’s there we believe this year that we can have a good crack off winning.
“I believe the championship will be very interesting and how the new structure will change the dynamic.
“Teams will have to react to losses, be able to pick themselves up.
“Also the dynamic with the Cork players when they come back in and fit in.
“It’s new for everybody but I think it’s a good thing, change is never a bad thing.’’