HARD to believe but a new 2021 Bon Secours Cork GAA county football championship begins with 26 ties pencilled in over the coming weekend.
The Bon Secours sponsored intermediate A, premier intermediate, senior A and premier senior football championships kick-off with the SAFC meeting of Bishopstown and St Michael’s in Páirc Uí Rinn on Friday.
12 championship ties are scheduled for Saturday with a further 13 games the following day, giving supporters plenty to talk about after a Covid-affected winter and summer.
Little doubt the pick of the opening PSFC fixtures involves 2020 county finalists from last weekend, Nemo Rangers and Castlehaven.
Champions Nemo are well aware that they will need to bring their A game against Valley Rovers in Ballygarvan on Saturday. The two sides met at the same juncture last season with Nemo emerging 3-8 to 1-9 winners. To their credit, Valley recovered and went on to reach the county quarter-finals only to lose to Duhallow by a point.
Nemo will not underestimate their Group A first round opponents with good reason. Any team that can boast (if available) Fiachra Lynch, John Cotterill, Kevin Canty and Chris O’Leary possesses enough experience to give Nemo plenty issues.
Yet, this is a Nemo team dripping with quality with the likes of Luke Connolly, Paul Kerrigan and Mark Cronin likely to feature prominently in the upcoming campaign.
Clonakilty is the venue for Saturday’s Group B west Cork derby between Castlehaven and dual senior club Newcestown. This has all the makings of a cracker considering Newcestown pushed the Haven to the limit in last season’s group encounter in Skibbereen.
A Michael Hurley goal proved the decisive score in a Castlehaven 1-12 to 0-9 win but, similar to Valley Rovers, Newcestown recovered and exited the county championship at the quarter-finals stage to the Barrs.
Under Declan Hayes, Carbery Rangers are eager to build on their 2021 West Cork U21 A success and improve on last year’s showing in the senior grade. Both sides possess a wealth of attacking options including the Ovens club’s Daniel Goulding and Colm O’Callaghan and Carbery’s John Hayes and Darragh Hayes.
Elsewhere in the PSFC, Haulie O’Neill takes charge of his first championship game back on the side-line for Clonakilty’s derby with Ilen Rovers while St Finbarr’s and Ballincollig meet for the second year in a row. The Barrs will no doubt be anxious for a repeat of their previous 1-13 to 0-10 victory.
Douglas and Carrigaline’s PSFC clash offer two clubs an opportunity to begin their 2021 campaign in a positive fashion.
Another west Cork derby between Bandon and O’Donovan Rossa represents one of this weekend’s SAFC headline-grabbers. The latter reached last year’s penultimate round and, provided they have a fully-fit squad, are capable of repeating that feat.
There will be plenty of interest in PIFC county champions Knocknagree’s opening round tie with Kiskeam. John Fintan Daly’s Knocknagree are in good form but will need to dig deep to get anything out of their meeting with a Kiskeam side that only missed out in a place in last season’s quarter-finals due to scoring difference.
Rockchapel’s memorable IAFC county final triumph sees the north western club begin life in the Cork PIFC with a tough opener against St Vincent’s in Mallow next Sunday. The latter failed to qualify for the knockout stages last term and will be hoping for better fare in 2021.
Perennial PIFC contenders Cill na Martra defeated last year’s county champions Knocknagree in the groups stages before losing to runners-up Kanturk in the semi-finals. Macroom and Naomh Abán’s Muskerry derby is expected to produce plenty of excitement in Ballingeary.
Last year’s Cork IAFC runners-up, Mitchelstown, will start as one of the favourites for this year’s competition. Aghabullogue will be Mitchelstown’s first round group opponents. The sides met in last year’s semi-finals in a competition that Cork JAFC champions Iveleary, relegated St Nick’s and Glanworth are expected to feature in the latter stages.