Dual demands ask a lot of Cork club players in new championship format 

Dual demands ask a lot of Cork club players in new championship format 

Newcestown full-back Cian Twomey under pressure from Eoghan McGreevey, St Finbarr's. Dual clubs felt the squeeze last summer in the Cork championships. Picture: Larry Cummins.

A WEEK after suffering a heart-breaking County SAHC semi-final defeat to Charleville in early October, Kanturk went to the well again to grind out a one-point Premier Intermediate football semi-final win against Cill na Martra.

It was a monumental effort considering Kanturk had 13 dual players involved in that football semi-final. The win was all the more satisfying again considering Kanturk’s heavy schedule of nine games in 10 weeks, while the schedule would have been even heavier again for the Kanturk players involved with the Duhallow Divisional football side.

Freshness was an obvious concern for Kanturk when the final was fixed for the following week, especially when a couple of the Kanturk players lined out with Duhallow in the following day’s senior semi-final, which Nemo Rangers won after extra-time.

Knocknagree, Kanturk’s PIFC final opponents, had five players start that match but freshness and tired bodies wasn’t going to be as much of a concern for Knocknagree ahead of the final. In any case, the game was called off early that week and will now be played in the New Year.

Cill na Martra's Danny O'Conaill is fouled by Kanturk's Lorcan O'Neill. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Cill na Martra's Danny O'Conaill is fouled by Kanturk's Lorcan O'Neill. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

The restructured Cork championships were a massive success this year but the increased number of games in such a short timespan was always going to make it difficult for dual clubs to prosper in both codes.

In recent years, Kanturk had around seven dual players involved with Duhallow but only three committed this year because of the heavy schedule. They just did the maths – the load was too heavy without placing an additional number of games on top of it.

The tighter schedule in 2020 was also difficult for the county board fixture makers around dual clubs. Duhallow’s defeat to Nemo had initially enabled all four Cork county football finals to be played that following weekend before all games were called off.

Otherwise, the Intermediate A and Premier Intermediate football semi-final victories enjoyed by Kanturk and Rockchapel the previous day would have left the county board with a fixtures headache as to what competitions could be concluded.

Dual clubs were bound to become ensnared in some traps along the way but, despite the sheer volume of games, one of the standout features of a brilliant club championship was how well so many dual clubs did.

Kanturk almost made finals in both codes but Éire Óg did, reaching the Senior A football decider and the Intermediate A hurling final. Their opponents in that hurling final still to be played, Aghabullogue, almost reached both finals but were defeated in the football semi-final by Mitchelstown.

Newcestown went on another dual crusade in 2020 but they eventually came up short. Four days after losing the SAHC semi-final to Fr O’Neills in the wake of a hampered build-up over the passing of a club stalwart, Newcestown were beaten in the Senior football quarter-final by St Finbarr’s.

The timeframe was always going to be difficult to negotiate with so many dual players. After Newcestown defeated Cloyne in the SAHC to reach the quarter-final, Newcestown manager Jim O’Sullivan said that, while he was a fan of the group system, he felt the toll on dual clubs was something that needs to be addressed.

“I like it as a format,” said O’Sullivan. 

“I’m in favour of the league system but the one fear I’d have going forward is that, when you’re a dual club, playing six weeks out of seven is very tough.” 

It was harder again for Newcestown with 12 players starting for both teams. The wheels were always likely to come off the tracks with two huge games within the space of four days but that dual-double is still an attainable goal for so many clubs.

A number of clubs have managed that incredible achievement in Cork in the last 11 years; Kanturk won PIHC and IFC in 2017; Bandon secured PIHC and IFC in 2016; Grenagh took home IFC and JAHC titles in 2013; Valley Rovers were PIFC and IHC champions in 2009.

The new system does make it harder to achieve that dual success with the increased number of games but trying to combine both codes was all the harder again with such a tightly condensed schedule in 2020.

At least with the inter-county championship going first in 2021 – and with a definitive split season for every county moving forward - there won’t be the same pressure to conclude county championships as there was in such a difficult 2020 season.

With the All-Ireland football final scheduled for July 19th in 2021, and provincial club championships starting at the end of October, the minimum time a county will have to run off its fixtures next year will be 14 weeks; this year, Cork were trying to cram everything into 11 weeks.

And that extra time may give more Cork dual clubs a better chance to complete their own unique double.

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