WITH the 2020 Cork Premier Senior football title won only last Sunday, the 2021 campaign kicks off this weekend with the usual contenders ready to fight it out for the right to lift the Andy Scannell Cup.
Leading divisional side Duhallow could well prove a fly in the ointment for the big three pretenders, especially given the fact that they can call on the likes of Eoghan McSweeney, Seamus Hickey, Mark Ellis, Paul Walsh, Jerry O’Connor, Conor O’Callaghan and Daniel O’Mahony.
The return of veteran manager Ned English to the barony should also boost the prospects of a first county championship in 30 years, but the smart money will be on Nemo, the Barrs and the Haven to lead the way.
A bizarre championship draw means that the three groups between the 12 Premier Senior clubs are extremely similar to the ones that were drawn last year.
St. Finbarr’s have Ballincollig and Clonakilty again, Castlehaven face Newcestown and Carbery Rangers once more, while Nemo have been drawn against Valley Rovers and Douglas for the second year running.
Given that the Barrs, Castlehaven and Nemo sailed through their respective groups last year with 100% records and positive points differences of 23, 32 and 27 points, respectively, it is a tough task to sell this year’s renewal as one that is likely to catch fire, at least early on.
Nemo face Valley Rovers at Ballygarvan on Saturday just six days after retaining their county title, and they will be looking to lay down an immediate marker in this campaign.
Despite the loss of key attacker Mark Cronin, who limped out of the county final last Sunday after only three minutes with what looked to be a hamstring injury, you would expect the game against Castlehaven to have sharpened up Nemo.
Valley Rovers made life awkward for them last year, but ultimately, just like last Sunday, it was the finishing power of Luke Connolly who ensured that Nemo had too much, as they won that day by 3-8 to 1-9.
Castlehaven will no doubt be still smarting from last Sunday’s defeat and will be looking to get a quick win under their belt to get it out of their system. Newcestown will certainly provide a tough opening test at Clonakilty. They pushed both the Haven and the Barrs last year but ultimately did not have enough firepower to really strike for home.
It will be interesting to see whether Cork U20 star David Buckley can show the form he showed during Cork’s provincial win this season.
St. Finbarr’s will have spent eleven long months mulling over their heartbreaking penalty shootout defeat to Castlehaven in last year’s semi-final at Páirc Úi Rinn. Despite Steven Sherlock kicking 1-9 on the night, it ended up 1-13 apiece, and finding enough support to their star man up front will be one of their main aims as they look to regain the title they last won back in 2018.
Cillian Myers Murray can certainly be relied upon to supplement Sherlock’s heavy scoring, but the Togher side will need more players to be chipping in with scores on a regular basis. Between last year’s quarter-final and semi-final fixtures against Newcestown and the Haven, the Barrs scored a respectable 1-27, yet only six players contributed to this total over the two games.
And back to Nemo, who will no doubt be the team to beat once more. They are gunning for their third title in a row, and fourth in five years, so they clearly have the know-how to get the job done. The club may have won 22 senior titles since their first back in 1972, but they have only managed to string together three wins in a row on two occasions, from 2000 to 2002 and from 2006 to 2008, so that will undoubtedly be a major incentive for Paul O’Donovan’s side.
With regards to stopping them, the formula would appear to be a simple enough one. Curb Luke Connolly. The Cork attacker slotted home seven goals in his six games in the 2020 championship, with the two he got in the final, in particular, proving decisive.
He also raised two green flags in the 2019 final against Duhallow, so that’s nine in seven games. If he can keep that rate up there will be no stopping Nemo.
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