COUNTY champions Blackrock will meet Erin’s Own, St Finbarr’s and Charleville in the group stages of the Co-op Superstores Cork Premier Senior Hurling Championship for 2021 after the draws at Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Thursday night.
Having been reintroduced after a 40-year absence in 2020, the round-robin system proved to be a success, with the Rockies overcoming city rivals Glen Rovers in the county final at the beginning of October.
Now, they will seek to retain their crown but they won’t have it all their own way in group C. Last year, Erin’s Own finished second to Blackrock in their group – a good start set the Rockies on the way to a 2-16 to 2-12 win – and the Glounthaune side then overcame Sarsfields in the quarter-finals before losing to the Glen in the last four.
St Finbarr’s endured a tough year, with defeats to the Glen and Na Piarsaigh ending their interest in the competition early, though they did restore some pride with a last-round victory over Carrigtwohill.
Charleville, winners of the premier IHC in 2018, gave a good showing at senior level in 2019 but needed to reach the quarter-finals to be part of the inaugural premier senior grade. While they just missed out on that, they were the outstanding team in senior A and will be keen to make a good impression on their return to the top tier.
The Glen are in group A along with Douglas, Newtownshandrum and Bishopstown. The latter two were also in the Blackrock-Erin’s Own group last year, with Bishopstown finishing bottom but prevailing against Ballyhea in the relegation play-offs. Douglas impressed in qualifying from a group that also featured Sarsfields and Midleton.
Those two East Cork sides are again in the same section, this time drawn alongside Carrigtwohill and Na Piarsaigh, who were also drawn together last year.
Former Cork captain Kieran Murphy, who captained Sars to win the 2008 title, expects another toughly-fought championship.
“Last year proved that there are no easy groups, certainly,” he said to draw compere Colm O’Connor.
“Sars and Midleton played a great game last year in Páirc Uí Rinn and that’ll be the stand-out game. It’s a nice baptism of fire for Charleville facing the county champions Blackrock, Erin’s Own – who had a good run last year – and St Finbarr’s, with Ronan Curran back in charge.
“Against Midleton, Sars came out on top by a couple of points and it put Midleton under pressure. They had to play Douglas then in a real championship game and that’s the beauty of the system.
“Last year, I remember being here on the final day of the group stages and you were waiting to see who’d get through, Erin’s Own getting a last-minute goal to qualify.”
While Blackrock are the team to beat, Murphy feels that the chasing pack are not far away.
“They’re very strong,” he said.
“Blackrock were very strong last year, you saw the strength of their bench in the final but there are a lot of good teams there who will know that Blackrock are slightly ahead, but on a given day anything can happen.”
As with last year, the group winners with the best record will proceed straight to the semi-finals – last year, this was Glen Rovers – while the other two sides topping their groups will be seeded in the quarter-finals and joined by the three runners-up and the side that emerges from the divisions and colleges section.
In the senior A hurling, last year’s beaten finalists Fr O’Neills are in an East Cork-heavy group C that features Cloyne and Killeagh as well as Newcestown, whom the Ballymacoda/Ladysbridge side beat in the 2020 semi-finals. Cloyne, Killeagh and Newcestown had competed in the same group last year.
In group A, last year’s semi-finalists Kanturk – beaten by eventual winners Charleville – are joined by Bandon, the side they beat in the 2020 quarter-finals. Blarney, up from the premier intermediate group, are also in this group, as are Fermoy, who also faced against Bandon last year.
There will be a renewal of acquaintances in group B as well, as Bride Rovers and Ballymartle have been drawn together for the second year in a row. They will compete against Ballyhea, who were relegated from the premier senior grade, and Mallow.
In the second tier, the top two group winners progress to the semi-finals, with the remaining first-placed team and the three runners-up contesting two quarter-finals.
Glen Rovers, Douglas, Newtownshandrum, Bishopstown.
Sarsfields, Na Piarsaigh, Midleton, Carrigtwohill.
Blackrock, Erin’s Own, St Finbarr’s, Charleville.
Kanturk, Bandon, Fermoy, Blarney.
Ballyhea, Bride Rovers, Ballymartle, Mallow.
Fr O’Neills, Newcestown, Cloyne, Killeagh.