ONE of the most competitive of all the grades in Cork championship hurling over the past number of months was the Senior A grade.
It gave all the participants an opportunity to get a taste of what it would be like if they were to be elevated to the Premier grade.
From the outset of the competition, two clubs were marked out as leading contenders for the title above all the rest and those clubs were Charleville and Fr O’Neill’s.
There were others too like Kanturk and Newcestown, Bride Rovers, always a difficult side to overcome and Ballymartle.
However, when it was done and dusted, save for the final, it was the two who had been primarily fancied, O’Neill’s and Charleville who collided in the final.
Charleville had been playing in the SHC the previous season before it was split in two and they were involved in a terrific struggle with Glen Rovers, a game that had went to extra-time before the Glen prevailed by just a point.
That game, despite losing it, had battle-hardened them and it obviously was going to stand to them when they entered the championship arena again.
And they needed those battling qualities when they faced Kanturk in the semi-final of the new A championship last September.
This was a game that is still talked about in both club and beyond, a game that provided 48 scores, five of them goals before Charleville came through.
Charleville had 10 different players contributing on the scoreboard while Kanturk had to play the entire second-half minus star player Lorcán McLoughlin who was red-carded.
Those 14 gave an excellent account of themselves and it took the very best from Charleville to get over the line on a scoreline of 2-26 to 3-17. It was a game that showed up this new Senior A championship in an excellent light.
In the other last-four game, a devastating three-goal burst just before the interval saw O’Neill’s overcome Newcestown.
The much-debated water break certainly came to O’Neill’s aid that day. At the end of the first quarter, they trailed by a point, 1-3 to 0-5, struggling to find any sort of rhythm.
But fast forward 15 minutes later and they were 3-9 to 1-4 ahead and in that short space of time, they had turned the game completely on its head.
This was a very significant illustration of one team losing its momentum and the other taking full advantage of it during that water break.
Of course, that’s not the only game at domestic or at provincial and national level that something like this has happened, one team cursing it, the other taking full advantage to reinvent themselves.
So, the final that many had predicted had come to pass if the sides had not been paired together before it.
And what a final we got, a story of one team constructing a nine-point interval advantage and ending up losing by one-point.
It was another game of hurling that exhibited the Senior A Championship in all its finery.
O’Neill’s led at the interval 1-11 to 0-5, aided by a substantial wind. One way or the other it was a very significant lead.
But in one of the comeback stories of any championship game in Cork this year, Charleville produced an epic one to win by a point on a scoreline of 1-23 to 4-13.
How often has it happened in the past that one team scores 4-13 in a county final and still ends up on the losing end.
Darragh Fitzgibbon gave an illustration that day of the hurler that he is and how important to Cork hurling he will be going forward with a return of 1-8.
Danny Flynn hit 0-6 from open play and as we have seen at other levels, the use of the bench yielded a rich dividend, James O’Brien and Tim Hawe posting a haul of four points.
Overall, though, the Senior A championship was a resounding success as, of course, were the other two championships that were concluded, the Premier Senior and Premier Intermediate.
And there might be more to come when the club games in the county resume with two potentially thrilling derby finals to be played at intermediate and lower intermediate level, Aghabullogue against Éire Óg and Castlemartyr against Russell Rovers respectively.
The decision by the County Board to prevail with the same format in all the grades for next season was the correct one.
It was a format that rejuvenated the entire club scene throughout the county. Every game was meaningful and the margin for error was at the absolute minimum.
Those charged with bringing a fresh impetus to the club scene on Leeside certainly got it right here and it is surely the only way forward.