POTENTIALLY, every year the county U21 hurling championship carries huge appeal with some of the best, young hurlers in the county auditioning for a place on the Cork senior panel.
It’s the ideal grade for the senior management to have a good, hard look at players who they might have on their radar.
This year’s competition is probably one of the most competitive we have had for a long time with anything up to five or six teams well capable of ending up with the silverware on offer.
Normally at this very late stage in the year, we’d be reflecting on the campaign rather than looking ahead to it.
However, with the first of the last month of the year just a few days away, there are still five teams remaining in the chase.
And you could safely say that all five have a fairly equal opportunity on claiming the prize.
Everything is therefore set up for a grandstand finale, starting tomorrow night and concluding next Sunday week.
But that is far from being the case and the whole thing is now being condensed into less than a two week period.
Take the case of Fr O’Neill’s, they travelled to Kilworth last Sunday and came away with a splendid victory over one of the more fancied sides, Charleville who had the bulk of their Cork County PIHC and Munster Club championship side on duty.
O’Neill’s were deserving winners but they will have little time to reflect on it because they are back out in action again tomorrow night in the quarter-final against Sarsfields.
And if they are successful in that game they are back out again next Saturday in the semi-final against the Rockies.
That would make it three games in six days after playing their opening round back in August.
If Sars win on Wednesday night they’ll have two games in a very short space of time too after lying idle for months as well.
Surely in a competition of such importance, there has to be a better way and teams should not be asked to play to play so often in such a short space of time.
Of course, the big problem has been the fact that there is what we call a back-door route in the competition, teams getting a second chance.
Was this really needed, one has to pose the question when the vast majority of those U21 players are involved with their clubs in other grades?
Anyway, let’s hope the weather gods are kind over the next 12 days or so because the remaining games are loaded with potential.
Fr O’Neill’s and Sars tomorrow night is another one of those endless East Cork derby games and this should be a cracker Sars are the favourites for the prize in a lot of quarters and a side containing the likes of Jack O’Connor, Aaron Myers, Luke Hackett, Eoghan Murphy and Liam Healy carry a lot of quality.
They are the defending champions too but O’Neill’s will be energised by their win over Charleville.
Deccie Dalton was superb in that game, posting 14 points that included two monstrous frees from over 100 yards out, two sideline cuts that were pure gems and some more sublime efforts too.
Midleton and Douglas are involved in the first semi-final on Saturday and this is another game that you’d like to get to watch.
Both sides have some of the best, young players in the county involved here with Douglas being taken to the wire on Sunday in their win over Shandrum.
We forgot to mention earlier too that all the games now require extra-time if they end in a draw.
That makes things even more taxing at this time of the year when the underfoot conditions are not conducive to pure and pretty hurling.
But it is what it is now as they say and the show goes on.
Predicting a winner of this U21 championship is immensely difficult and you could put all the five remaining contenders into a drum.
It’s just a pity that it’s running so late.
But then again we can cast our minds back to a final of yesteryear, 2005 to be exact when Erin’s Own defeated Douglas in the final on December 18 on a scoreline of 0-13 to 0-10 in a cracking game.
Maybe something similar will be the case this time.
The ‘A’ county U21 final is shaping up to be a cracker too featuring Ballincollig and Courcey Rovers.
Courcey Rovers were involved in a splendid game with Carrigaline in the semi-final last Sunday, coming out on top in a high-scoring contest.
Winning this title would be a nice measure of compensation for their loss by just a point to Charleville in the county premier intermediate final replay.
On the other side, you have Ballincollig seeking to add to their IHC crown.
The way things are now you could say that on the hurling front anyway it’s busier than it was in the Summer months when most of the pitches were empty because of a lack of games.
That’s all well and good but it’s not right either when games of such importance are being played so late.
In the superb Cork GAA Yearbook which will be published shortly, you will have no account of these U21 finals because of things running so late.
That was the case too last year when there was no account of the Premier U21 final featuring Sars and Killeagh/Ita's.