Carbery board chairman Tom Lyons admits that the division faces a challenge with regard to continuing to compete at senior hurling level, but he remains hopeful.
Having not taken part in last year’s Co-op SuperStores Premier SHC as Covid-19 hampered preparations, the south-western division won’t be involved this year either. While Carbery’s greatest triumph, the 1994 title win, recedes into the distance, as recently as 2014 they defeated Imokilly – the East Cork side’s last divisions/colleges loss before the defeat to UCC last year, as they claimed three championships in a row in the interim.
Lyons accepts that entering this year wouldn’t have been worth it/
“We’ve been in trouble for half-a-dozen years,” he says.
“The new championships didn’t do us any favours, with each club being given three games, and unfortunately our intermediate clubs are kind of fighting relegation.
“Their minds are elsewhere and, on top of that, you’re trying to squeeze in the Carbery games with those club games and you need your intermediate players to provide a backbone for the team.
“Then Covid came and the preparation hadn’t been put in – you couldn’t really, there was no opportunity to. Now, Tim Buckley kept the footballers going online but the hurlers didn’t go down that road and they didn’t have anything done.
“We were struggling as it was, so there was no way we could have put out any kind of respectable team in the Covid situation. You’re talking about €1,000 per team for insurance as well – for one game, that’s all you were going to get, so finance comes into it, too.”
The downtime means that Carbery can ask themselves tough questions.
“This is the big tester now,” Lyons says.
“We were afraid to step back for a few years because nobody wanted to say, ‘No, we won’t have a team.’
“We kept it going for the sake of keeping it going. Now that there has been a break of two years, it will really test us – are we really genuine, are the clubs genuine, do we really want a Carbery team? This will show us.
“If it’s not missed for these two years, we’ll have a serious look at it then. Maybe it happened at the right time in some ways, that we needed to have a break and step back and have a good look at where we are.
“At the same time, I would say, for the young junior hurlers coming up in Carbery, that you could always have a potential Cork senior in there somewhere and he has to have exposure.”
In the past decade, Carbery minor sides took part in county championships, winning the Premier 2 hurling in 2014, but hopes of entering an U21 side were dashed and then the minor team had to cease, too. Lyons felt that that stymied development in the region.
“That was the biggest disappointment that we were hit with,” he says, “that they wouldn’t let us put in an U21 team that time.
“If you could have carried one or two good teams through and have them play at senior level then, that would have been a huge boost – that’s what brought Duhallow up in hurling, without a doubt.
“That would have been the makings of us but they refused us that and then pulled the minor on us and that was a real kick in the gut.
“We were hoping to have a route where players could progress, an academy if you like. It would have been a target, bringing in lads at 14 and 15 and telling them that the target is the Carbery senior hurling team in five years’ time.
“That would have been great to aim for, going through minor and U21, but without that you’re working without any base, which makes it twice as hard.
“At the same time, which we resented, they were bringing in the Kerry minors to play in the Cork leagues. They were allowed to play and we were thrown out, which made no sense whatsoever!”
However, Lyons holds out hope that Carbery can bounce back from this.
“As I said, this will be a test,” he says.
“If the clubs have an appetite for it and they come back to us at the end of the year, there’s a chance. We’ll put it to them if they want to go back and if they say, ‘We didn’t miss it,’ or, ‘We don’t need it,’ or, ‘We don’t want it,’ well then there wouldn’t be much point in progressing it.
“I think that something will happen anyway with divisions over the next five years, there’ll be a serious look at different aspects of the divisions taking part, even re-drawing the divisions is up in the air.
“We don’t know what it’s in the future, we’d hope that we’ll have a team again next year but we’re not sure if the appetite is there.”