EVEN before Covid-19 had its say, the 2020 Cork Premier SHC was intended to be one like no other.
A seismic change, in the form of a switch to a group-stage format, was passed at the end of 2019.
It had been intended that one round of games would take place on April with two more in August but, as things turned out, everything was played out in a short space of time from the end of July to the start of October.
One thing hoping to make an impact was Blackrock. When they won in 1999, it ended a 14-year drought.
While it wasn’t the longest gap between titles – that was 1931-56 – it was the longest wait since then and when the Rockies won again in 2001 and 2002, it looked as if they were back at the top for the foreseeable future.
The thing about sport is that the future is never clearly foreseen, though, and it wouldn’t be until 2017 that the club made it to the final again.
There, they lost to an Imokilly side that would go on to win three in a row, but made it back to the semi-finals the following year. While they fell to Midleton, there was a sense that something was brewing with their young team and though the 2019 campaign ended prematurely with defeat to Newtownshandrum, the Rockies stood on the starting grid for 2020 with as much optimism as anybody else.
Of course, it was a delayed race as the Covid-19 pandemic delayed the commencement of the championship, with late July seeing things finally get into action.
The new 12-team Co-op SuperStores Premier Senior Hurling Championship was arranged with three groups of four teams and for Fergal Ryan’s side that meant games against Erin’s Own, Newtownshandrum and Bishopstown.
The Glounthaune side provided the first opposition in Páirc Uí Rinn and a blistering Blackrock start ultimately provided the foundation for the victory.
Tadhg Deasy’s fourth-minute point set the city side on their way and two minute later they had a goal as Ciarán Cormack netted.
When Alan Connolly netted in the 22nd minute, it was 2-8 to 0-3 for the Rockies, but by half-time Erin’s Own were back to within five points, 2-8 to 1-6, after a goal from Maurice O’Carroll.
Erin’s Own stayed in touch during the second half and the deficit was down to four points before Alan Bowen struck for a second goal for them.
It was a test of Blackrock’s resolve but, in a sign of things to come, they were able to come up with just the right response as Alan Connolly sent over three points – he was to finish with 1-9 – and sub Robbie Cotter added another to secure a 2-16 to 2-12 win and get them up and running.
In the other game in the group, Newtown had beaten Bishopstown after a rousing comeback, meaning that the Rockies’ game against the North Cork side in Mallow would effectively act as a play-off for a place in the knockout stages of the championship.
Just as they had a week previously, Blackrock surged into a commanding lead in the opening half. Tadhg Deasy put them into a lead they wouldn’t relinquish on four minutes with a goal after he has done well to create an opening himself following good work by centre-back John Cashman.
After Deasy and Alan Connolly added points, the second goal arrived. It was a result of the direct play to the inside line as Mark O’Keeffe picked out Connolly and he did well to calmly round Bowles and send a batted finish to the net.
They were 2-4 to 0-1 ahead following points from Connolly and Shane O’Keeffe though sub Dermot McCarthy and Jerry Lane gave Newtown some respite before the first-half water break.
After play resumed, Blackrock eased clear through Shane O’Keeeffe and Tadhg Dasy but Newtown got themselves back into game when they won a penalty, which Coughlan converted.
While they were still seven points behind as the game moved into injury time at the end of the first half, Coughlan cut that to four with his second goal, set up by Jerry Lane’s run and Tim O’Mahony’s pass.
That left it 2-10 to 2-6 at the interval and four times in the opening ten minutes of the second half the lead was cut to three points by Coughlan but, on each occasion, Blackrock responded as Connolly showed himself to be flawless from placed balls.
The decisive stage of the half came when the Rockies necklaced five consecutive points together as Tadhg Deasy impressed while sub Robbie Cotter got the pick of them as he profited from excellent build-up play by wing-backs Cathal Cormack and Daniel Meaney.
By the time of the water break in the second half, they were 2-19 to 2-12 to the good and that advantage was extended further courtesy of scores from Meaney, Deasy and Cotter, bringing his tally to four points after Shane O’Keeffe’s pass.
By the end, they were ahead by 2-26 to 2-14 and Erin’s Own’s win over Bishopstown meant that, even if Blackrock were to lose their final group game against their city rivals, they were still guaranteed top spot.
There was still a motivation to secure the win against the Town, though, as the highest-ranked first-place team would bypass the quarter-finals and move directly to the semis.
In the event, Blackrock did make it three wins from three as they triumphed by 4-15 to 0-18 in Ballyanly, with two Mark O’Keeffe goals having given them a 2-8 to 0-8 lead.
Alan Connolly and Michael O’Halloran – absent in the earlier games due to injury – added further green flags in the second period and, though Patrick Cronin and Thomas Murray combined for 13 Bishopstown points, there was no denying the superiority of the victors. Despite the nine-point win, though, Blackrock had to settle for second place in the seedings, with Glen Rovers taking top spot after wins over St Finbarr’s, Carrigtwohill and Na Piarsaigh.
After their three defeats, Bishopstown ended up having to negotiate the relegation play-off, with Ballyhea their opponents in Mallow.
Murray scored seven points with sub James Scally contributing three as they won by 0-18 to 0-10 against the Magpies, for whom Maurice O’Sullivan and Pa O’Callaghan each scored four points.
With just one team progressing from the compacted four-team divisions and colleges section, reigning champions Imokilly had no room for error and their dreams of four in a row came to an end as UCC scored the final pour points – from Brian Kelleher, Neil Montgomery, Pádraig Power and Daithí Heffernan – to triumph by 1-23 to 1-20 in Páirc Uí Rinn.