FROM a famine to a feast.
Rarely have the annual Cork GAA club county championship draws been as keenly anticipated as tonight’s in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
Clubs based in every corner of the county were recently cleared for a return to underage training. Now, it is the turn of their adult club members to find out who their opponents will be in the opening rounds of their respective 2021 football and hurling championships.
Newspaper, radio, television and online GAA coverage noticeably increased following the recent provincial inter-county championship draws. News of Cork’s Munster football semi-final against the winners of Limerick and Waterford plus the hurler’s meeting with reigning All-Ireland champions Limerick has whetted Cork GAA supporter’s appetite for the summer ahead.
A drawn-out winter period in which Covid-19 enforced Level 5 restrictions ended the county’s club activities and emptied GAA pitches is now behind us. The prospect of finding out who each team will face in the Cork club championships has players, managers, supporters and the media looking forward rather than dwelling on a difficult, recent past.
Whilst all eyes will be on tonight’s 2021 championship draws, the issue of unfinished 2020 county finals must still be addressed. In football, dates for the Premier Senior, Senior A, Premier Intermediate and Intermediate A county deciders have yet to be confirmed. Whilst in the club hurling championships, the Intermediate A and Lower Intermediate finals are also awaiting confirmation of when they can go ahead.
There are also junior county finals also to be rearranged. Castlehaven and Nemo Rangers’ Premier Senior football showdown is one of the standout county finals yet to be completed. It seems like a lifetime ago but last October’s semi-final penalty shootout between the West Cork club and St Finbarr’s at a rain-sodden Páirc Uí Rinn concluded one of the most exciting club matches for years. There was drama throughout an engrossing encounter before Cork senior Mark Collins slotted home the winning spot-kick to send the Haven’ into the final.
Nemo’s run to the 2020 county decider was mightily impressive. Victories over Valley Rovers, Bishopstown, Douglas, Ballincollig and Duhallow reinforced Rangers’ billing as one of the favourites for the county title.
So, Castlehaven and Nemo will be eager to play the county final as soon as possible but for now, their immediate focus is on Thursday’s draws. Irrespective of who comes out on top of their rearranged final, both clubs will start the 2021 PSFC amongst the favourites to lift the Andy Scannell Cup.
Last year’s semi-finalists, St Finbarr’s and Duhallow will fancy their chances of returning to the business end of the championship once again this year. The latter will first have to negotiate an always tricky Divisions and Colleges section in which Carbery and UCC will be equally intent on entering the knockout phase of the club competition.
As ever, there is plenty of potential west of the Viaduct with the likes of Newcestown and Carbery Rangers hoping to improve on their previous year’s records. Declan Hayes is the new Carbery Rangers manager and has plenty of raw material to work with. The Rosscarbery side were disappointed not to emerge from an all-West Cork group in 2020. Dual senior club Newcestown edged Rangers for a county quarter-final berth by virtue of a 3-point group win over their division rivals. Newcestown couldn’t get beyond St Finbarr’s in the last eight.
Mallow and Éire Óg’s 2020 Senior A football final is another clash that club supporters and neutrals are looking forward to. Both qualified for the knockout stages by advancing from their opening-phase group. Notably, that four-team round-robin group also included a 0-14 to 0-7 Mallow win over their county final opponents.
Each were pushed to the limit in their respective semi-final wins over Fermoy (Mallow) and O’Donovan Rossa (Éire Óg) and there is little doubt that the two best teams in the grade have reached the final. It may well come down to a shootout between the finalists’ top championship scorers and most experienced campaigners in Daniel Goulding and Cian O’Riordan but a cracking game is anticipated nonetheless.
Knocknagree and Kanturk’s Premier Intermediate decider along with Rockchapel against either Mitchelstown or Aghabullogue in the Intermediate A football final are the other remaining county matches to be finished out.
So, there is lots to look forward to for GAA supporters in terms of analysing tonight’s county championships draws and the completion of the 2020 county finals. Each should produce plenty of drama.