A NEW format of the Cork County Premier SHC, introduced last season, proved to be a resounding success and in the aftermath of the draw this season’s campaign, the potential is just as immense.
For obvious reasons, a lot of the spotlight falls on the defending champions and how well they will be able to defend their title. Since the beginning of the millennium, making a successful defence of your hard-earned crown has not been an easy task and only a few clubs have managed to do it.
Sars and Newtown, who have been the two most successful clubs since 2000, having won the title eight times between them in that period, never managed to retain it.
Erin’s Own and The Glen did it though, in 2006 and 2007, and in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Imokilly did it, of course, but they were a divisional unit.
Now it’s Blackrock’s turn to try and emulate those feats and for starters, it won’t be easy. They have been paired alongside Erin’s Own, Charleville and St Finbarr’s.
The champions will be favourites, but at the same time will be very cautious. Erin’s Own will have a solid blend of experience and youth and showed what they are capable of last season when they ousted Sarsfields.
There is no better man to plot the downfall of a big gun than Martin Bowen and they will not be easily beaten by any opposition.
Charleville have Mark Foley of Limerick at the helm and were winners of a hugely competitive Senior A Championship last season. The previous year they took The Glen to extra-time in Mallow. Now they are back n the top flight, the message is, beware of them.
These boys know their way around and have the right blend to make a big push to be one of the two teams to emerge from this group.
St Finbarr’s finished on a high last season in staving off the threat of relegation by defeating Carrigtwohill. But they were awful in their first two games against The Glen and Na Piarsaigh.
There is a fresh impetus in Togher now after their terrific victory in the Premier Minor County Championship last season.
Ronan Curran resumes in the manager’s bib after a very positive stint with Kanturk and he will be all the better from that experience.
Integrating the minors of last season into the senior set-up is the priority now and there is a hard core already in place.
The others will thread warily against them.
Forecast: Rockies and Charleville to come through.
Sars, Midleton, Na Piarsaigh, and Carrigtwohill is a very interesting group too, mainly for the presence of three east Cork teams.
At first glance, you would fancy Sars and Midleton to come through. But that is no certainty and Midleton have not justified the potential that they showed when they were successful in 2013.
Not getting into the knockout stages last season was a big setback for their team coach Ben O’Connor and he will want a much better return from his players this time.
Having Conor Lehane focused only on club duties now will be hugely beneficial and he can make a huge difference if he regains the form that he’s capable of.
Sars have Barry Myers in charge and he certainly deserves the opportunity after his success with the minors and U21s at the club. The Riverstown team have probably the biggest selection to choose from, but it's all about fitting the pieces into the jigsaw.
It will be a surprise if they are not around at the business end of the campaign.
Na Piarsaigh must not be underestimated though, but they must be more consistent than they have been. One wonders will the numbers stack up for them when it really matters.
Carrigtwohill were well beaten by St Finbarr’s last season and are outsiders again. But they were too, back in 2011. However, it is difficult, to envisage that remarkable feat being repeated.
Forecast: Sarsfields and Midleton to emerge.
The final group consists of three city teams. Glen Rovers, Bishopstown, Douglas, and Newtownshandrum.
Ian Lynam is now number one in the Glen Field and he is a very experienced campaigner at this level, working so successfully with Richie Kelleher. In fact, it will be difficult to see a Glen side without Kelleher no longer involved at this level.
But he did his time with his hugely successful innings to show for it.
Year in, year out Douglas are expected to go very well, but great expectations have not been realised. They had a great win last season over Midleton, but their subsequent offering fell short again.
Bishopstown have not been a force for a while now and are probably outsiders in this group.
They have a lot of experienced players in the ranks, but have they the required infusion of new blood to make it a successful blend?
You will always be wary of Newtownshandrum producing a big result and they have the pedigree. Again though, they are far from the force they were in those halcyon days of yesteryear.
But Newtown are Newtown, and dismiss them at you peril.
Forecast: Glen Rovers and Douglas as the two to qualify.
So that is our initial look at the SHC, one that is rich in potential and if it measures up to 2020, there will few dissenting voices.