Relegating so many Cork intermediate teams to junior would be a rash move

Given the circumstances, county board should press pause on the cull of lower tiers in the Cork hurling and football championships
Relegating so many Cork intermediate teams to junior would be a rash move

Grenagh's Christopher Buckley challenging Tracton's Sean Kiely in the Co-op Superstores Cork LIHC at Ballincollig. Picture: Denis Minihane.

WHEN the Cork County Board announced last October that the outstanding 2020 club football finals wouldn't be played until March at the earliest, the declaration sounded extreme.

Yet here we are, into April awaiting confirmation of a return to adult training, aside from inter-county panels, let alone a green light for fixtures. 

Cork is one of the worst-hit counties of those that didn't have their competitions completed when the plug was abruptly pulled on club activity. Along with football deciders at Premier Senior, Senior A, Premier Intermediate and Intermediate, there are games left to complete the two Intermediate hurling grades, as well as the junior tiers.

There are also relegation issues carrying over.

 James Sheehan and Cathail O'Mahony, Mitchelstown, battling Paudie Twomey, Aghabullogue, in the Intermediate Football semi-final. Picture: Jim Coughlan.
James Sheehan and Cathail O'Mahony, Mitchelstown, battling Paudie Twomey, Aghabullogue, in the Intermediate Football semi-final. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

The divisional and colleges aspect to the top levels in Cork, combined with the crossover of dual players and the sheer number of teams, meant there was always a danger that time would run out on Leeside as the inter-county window closed in last winter. Covid delays exacerbated the threat.

Only Blackrock, Charleville and Blarney got to collect cups for 2020 and now the draws will take place on April 29 with a lot of pressure on the county board to balance this year's and last season's competitions. 

Earlier this year they committed to holding leagues, which were written off in 2020, most likely during the summer when Cork teams are in action.

One crucial topic the executive must debate before the 2021 draws in three weeks is relegation. Currently, all bar the winners of the Lower Intermediate Hurling Championship will drop to junior for 2022, while Intermediate Football must be culled from 16 clubs to 12. The 2020 unfinished relegation play-offs hinder the process further. 

The board wrote to clubs and divisions to submit their views before next Tuesday. They may yet press pause on such a sweeping move.

In normal circumstances, it was set to be a very harsh but ultimately necessary way of rebalancing bloated competitions. The move would have left Cork with four tiers from Premier Senior down of 12 clubs apiece, as well as the auxiliary divisional/colleges section at the top. 

It facilitates three groups of four across the board, guaranteeing each club three games each, with a share of them playing at least four, between the knockout stages and the relegation play-offs. We saw last year, even behind closed doors or in front of minimal crowds, it restored bite to the championship.

It doesn't seem right to cut so many teams from the intermediate ranks at the end of another season derailed by Covid.

The board deserves credit for sticking to their guns last summer with the round-robin format when the easy option would have been to revert to a straightforward backdoor. It was a shame when the Munster and Leinster hurling groups were paused, as they had provided more quality inter-county action across 2018 and 2019.

The most sensible step in Cork would be give clubs a chance to defend their intermediate status in a normal year.

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