SEAMUS HARNEDY has already been first on to the winner’s rostrum at the conclusion of a major club championship.
He captained Imokilly to win the Cork County SHC last season and it was a natural progression when it was announced that he would lead his county into the NHL and the subsequent new-look Munster Championship.
It’s a huge honour for one coming from a very small unit of the association in St Ita’s from east Cork and Harnedy is deeply honoured to be the chosen one.
“Yes, it’s going to be helter-skelter, four games in five weeks and it’s definitely going to be interesting.
“I suppose the strength of your panel will be vital, minimising injuries will be important too and it’s going to move well beyond a 15-man game. That depth in your squad will be critical from week to week and we will definitely be eyeing a good start at home to Clare in the first match.”
Harnedy is under no illusions concerning the size of the task that he and his fellow Cork players are going to encounter in what will be a very limited time frame.
“Anyone of the five teams could end up with the Munster trophy in their hands, it’s an extremely competitive environment in which we are competing in now and getting off to a good start is nearly imperative.
“If you lose that first game you immediately start looking at other teams so it’s far better to get into a winning mode.”
Cork are now the reigning champions, but rewind the clock back 12 months and they were reckoned to be well down the list of potential winners.
They went on, however, to win a great championship, beating Tipperary, Waterford and Clare to do so but the Cork captain fully realises that that is all history now.
“It was hugely encouraging, having to win three big games to do it but, unfortunately, we were disappointed with how we performed in the All-Ireland semi-final with Waterford, especially the last 15 minutes.
“That is something that we will be trying to rectify now in the championship, try to be more consistent over the entire game. But, look, every new year brings its new challenges and we are back to square one now and we’ll only be judged on our most recent performance.”
Having been successful last season in the province, he accepts that the expectation levels this time might be higher.
“We can only look after ourselves and not be too focused too much on what goes on outside. We have to prepare ourselves as best we can and we have enough time now as a group to do that.”
League results could have been much better, but it’s all about looking forward now to what lies ahead.
“Yes, we should have been more consistent in the league and from within some of the games themselves.
“We didn’t have great periods in some games, against Clare and Wexford, I suppose. We had a few defeats that we felt we could have got more out of, so consistency of performance from game to game and within games will be key for us.
“In fairness to the management, they blooded some very good guys during the league so that was a major positive outside of winning the relegation match with Waterford.”
Harnedy reckons that it’s nearly impossible to divide any of the five competing counties that will be competing for the two places in the final.
“One hundred percent. Take Limerick, they had a very positive league, getting out of 1B and beating Galway to do so.
“Their underage is now starting to pay dividends and Clare too will be very strong again.
“Tipp are Tipp, Waterford got to the All-Ireland final last season and that experience will stand to them.
“The strength in depth of all the Munster counties is very strong and it will take a huge amount of different factors to win it.”
And is he in favour of the new structure of the competition?
“It’s very much going into an unknown quantity. To use the old cliche, you prefer playing games than training.
“The training to games ratio was always a criticism from inter-county players as such. In that perspective the new regime is good, but it is a very tight time frame so it is going to test everybody, individually and collectively. Yes, you would be excited about it but I’d review again it in seven or eight weeks time.”
He realises too, the pitfalls of the new structure, two leading hurling counties will be out of the championship shortly after mid-June.
“Yes, two of arguably the best seven or eight teams in the country are going to be out of the championship, but that’s the beauty of it and you must embrace it now for what it is and make sure we are ready.”
He is hopeful too that the introduction of the likes of Shane Kingston, Darragh Fitzgibbon, Mark Coleman and others last season will be of further benefit this time.
“Absolutely, I’d say last year we had five debutants for our first game so that will stand to them, that experience from last time.
“We had a few more too this season putting their hands up, Tim O’Mahony, Sean O’Donoghue, Darren Browne, Robbe O’Flynn and that can only add to the strength of Cork hurling and the panel on its own.’’
Playing in Páirc Uí Chaoimh will be huge as well, he believes.
“A lot of us got used to it last season in the club championship, playing there with Imokilly and other teams and we did a lot of preparation there too for the All-Ireland semi-final.
“It has had its issues but thank God they are being rectified and it’s great to have a home game for starters there and Limerick coming here as well.
“It’s great for the supporters too, getting to see the team play just up the road and, hopefully, we can make that home advantage tell.”