ANY year that a college or a division make a charge towards a county title, a debate kicks up about their participation.
Whatever about traditionally strong divisions doing well, like Imokilly in hurling or Carbery and Duhallow in football, success for CIT or UCC galls many Leesiders.
Particularly when Cork clubs are being eliminated by star-studded line-ups featuring the best young talent from Kerry, Waterford, Tipp and beyond.
The College hurlers stunned Midleton recently, before a narrow replay loss to Sars in the SHC quarter-final, while CIT caused a huge upset back in round one against Douglas, who were considered dark horses at that stage. UCC’s footballers gave Nemo a real rattle in the SFC quarter-final, pushing them closer than Duhallow managed in last Sunday’s semi.
In the view of Martin Walsh, UCC hurling boss, the involvement of divisions and colleges in the Cork championships is a positive. Speaking to RedFM he argued they raise the standard across the board and offer a chance for junior and intermediate players to impress.
“It’s good for Cork. Seamie Harnedy and Paudie Sullivan are on display with Imokilly. It’s giving Cork a base to pick from. Will Leahy is there for Imokilly, going fierce well, and there are good players in all the divisions and colleges.
“Other people think they’re bringing it down but I think it gives the small fella a chance.
“There’s always a hill to climb. A division, like Imokilly, will never have the same club spirit, UCC are the same. You nearly want to be six points clear going against a club to get over the line. We saw that. Imokilly were the same against Erin’s Own.”
Walsh made the case that even if the likes of Tipp senior Michael Breen and Waterford’s Tom Devine were marquee men on show in the Skull and Crossbones, their march to the quarter-final was driven by Rebels.
“This year the base was Cork hurlers. We always have a sprinkle of Tipperary and Waterford lads but this time we’d Darragh Fitz, Mark Coleman, Rob O’Shea, David Lowney, Dave Griffin.
“They’re inter-county level hurlers from Cork and it shows why Cork are on the way back. If they’re playing at a better level for UCC in the club championship it’s for the betterment of Cork hurling.
“The win against Midleton was massive but every game was massive. They bring something different to it because there are different teams out every night.
“Players are going into college to be taught and then playing a bit of hurling but they buy into it and (development officer) John Grainger keeps it going."
Uncertainty about player availability is an issue and in Saturday’s replay the College were without Déise duo Jamie Barron and Conor Gleeson.
“We were down a few bodies but we gained a few too so we’d no excuses. We came on a long journey, we’d great fun along the way and there are a lot of talking points about us being on that journey, that’s not a bad thing.
“Barron, Gleeson, two of them were huge losses and a couple of lads played championship for their clubs earlier in the day but that’s what players are prepared to do for the College. They’re not cribbing, feeling sorry for themselves and they’re delighted to wear the jersey.”
Cork forward Seamus Harnedy is certainly thrilled to feature in the red and white of Imokilly, with whom his father is a selector, judging by his reaction to their replay victory over Erin’s Own, setting up Sunday’s semi-final with Sars.
Harnedy, who originally made his mark with UCC in the Fitzgibbon Cup, has been on song for the East Cork division since the opening round against Bishopstown. They're now one game away from a first county final since 2001's loss to Blackrock.
“We’ve a good bond now,” he told RedFM. “We’re with each other a few years and things are going well. The standard has gone through the roof in the county championship in the last few years and we know there are three great teams left.
“It’ll be a first for me. I’m looking forward to it, especially if it’s in the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh.”
Imokilly last won the county in 1998, retaining the title at the time.