MALLOW, who are back in the county senior football championship for the first time in eight years, are guaranteed three games at least following the draw for next year’s edition.
The north Cork club, who won a thrilling Premier Intermediate final against St Michael’s back in October, were drawn out to play Valley Rovers, the 2014 Premier Intermediate winners, in the lone preliminary round fixture.
It means whatever the outcome both clubs will have a minimum of three games because the winners advance to round 1, where Newcestown await, and the losers of that tie will be involved in round 2B against the losers of the Kiskeam-St Nick’s game.
Valleys reached the quarter-finals this season and lost by just two points to Duhallow in a very close affair, so either way, it’s going to be a big test for Mallow, who last competed in the top tier of the championship in 2009, when they were relegated.
The championship takes on a different format in 2018 as it’s divided into two sections, beginning with the two third-level institutions, UCC and CIT, and the six divisions.
It’s an open draw with the only the four first-round winners advancing and the losers bowing out.
There will be two round 2 games and the winners will progress to round 3 proper of the championship.
There’s no doubting the stand-out tie in round 1, which has UCC taking on Carbery, two representative pairings with the quality to make serious inroads in the competition.
But, one of them will fall by the wayside early and even the winners are unlikely to be too chuffed about their progress because Duhallow are the more likely opponents in round 2.
That’s because this year’s semi-finalists and former winners, in 1990 and 1991, will be the warmest of favourites to repeat this year’s big win over Seandun.
Avondhu, who’ve made such an imprint in the championship in the past couple of seasons, face Beara and will be expected to win with CIT or Muskerry awaiting at the next hurdle.
In all there are 29 teams in the championship, far too big a number surely, but that’s for another day.
Some 19 clubs are represented, which is an increase on this season because no club met the relegation criteria and Mallow earned promotion.
There was little in the draw to have supporters shouting from the roof-tops though there’s a tasty west Cork derby between the 2016 champions, Carbery Rangers, and Clonakilty, who won a relegation play-off against O’Donovan Rossa and also reached the division 1 league final.
Once again, champions Nemo Rangers, who collected their 20th title with a replay win over St Finbarr’s in the final, will be favourites starting out, especially as Clyda Rovers are unlikely to bother them too much.
That is unless Nemo manage to win their All-Ireland club semi-final against Slaughtneil in February and return to Croke Park for the St Patrick’s Day final.
There’s unlikely to be too much rest before appearing in the county championship in April, when Nemo might be considered vulnerable, but that’s way in the distance, now.
The Barrs will be expected to be too strong for Carrigaline and it’s the same for Castlehaven against Dohenys while Ballincollig, the 2015 winners, should have too much for Ilen Rovers, confidence boosted by their recent Kelleher Shield success.
Divisions/Colleges: Round 1:
A. CIT v Muskerry,
B. Carbery v UCC
C. Seandún v Duhallow
D. Avondhu v Beara
Winners of A v winners of D, Winners of C v winners of B
Clubs: Preliminary round:
1. Valley Rovers v Mallow
2. St Finbarr’s v Carrigaline
3. Dohenys v Castlehaven
4. Newcestown v winners Valley Rovers or Mallow
5. Kiskeam v St Nick’s
6. Carbery Rangers v Clonakilty
7. Nemo Rangers v Clyda Rovers
8. Bishopstown v Douglas
9. O’Donovan Rossa v Aghada
10. Ilen Rovers v Ballincollig
Losers 5 v losers Mallow and Valley Rovers, Losers 8 v losers 3, Losers 7 v losers 9, Losers 2 v losers 10, Losers 6 v losers 4.