Having lost the last two county senior hurling finals, Glen Rovers are hoping to go a step further this year and regain the title last won in 2015 and 2016.
In 2019, the northsiders were denied by Imokilly as the East Cork divisional side claimed a third championship on the trot and then last year, the first under the new group-stage system, saw them lose out to old rivals Blackrock after extra time.
Now, the 27-time champions are facing into a new Co-op SuperStores Cork Premier SHC season, with city rivals Douglas the opposition in Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Saturday night before games against Bishopstown and Newtownshandrum as they seek to reach the knockout stages.
Glen goalkeeper Cathal Hickey is optimistic that they can find the extra impetus to improve on the last two showings.
“It’s never easy to lose a final,” he says, “but the motivation is definitely still there with the team.
“We’ve lost the last two now, so we’re hoping this year for that bit of luck and to go one step further.
“We’ve a lot of young fellas coming through now and they’re improving and pushing for places.”
The 2020 final took place on October 4, with all club action suspended by the GAA the following day and teams unable to train collectively until May. Hickey felt that the lockdown time was put to good use.
“For most fellas, there wasn’t much to do in lockdown anyway but train,” he says.
“Getting out of the house for an hour or two, just to do something – I think everyone nearly trained more in lockdown than they ever had before!”
One change off the field for the Glen during the off-season is the appointment of Ian Lynam as manager. He replaces Richie Kelleher, who departs after leading the club to five county finals, and will be joined by Graham Callanan, Gavin Moylan, David ‘Paddy’ Cunningham and Dermot McAuliffe.
Lynam had been coached under Tomás Mulcahy and then ascended to manager for 2010 and 2011 – taking the club to the county final against Sarsfields in his first year. Later, he served as coach under Kelleher, ensuring a continuity rather than players and management having to have a bedding-in period.
“He’s been involved with us for 11 or 12 years now,” Hickey says.
“We’ve all had him underage and everything and we’re delighted he’s there now.”
Last year, the Glen faced St Finbarr’s, Carrigtwohill and city rivals Na Piarsaigh. Having enjoyed an impressive win over the Barrs at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, they were then pushed all the way by Carrig before winning by a point.
That assured them of a quarter-final spot before the final match against their northside neighbours but a third win sent them straight through to the semis, where they got the better of Erin’s Own, despite trailing by five points at half-time.
The competitive nature of the grade means that there is little chance of ending up in a procession through the group, but Hickey feels that, overall, it is a fair format.
“There’s no-one really happy with the draw now when it’s just 12 teams,” he says.
“There’s no easy draw at all. I was talking to the other lads there and they were telling me their groups – every group is tough but it’s a way better system.
“You’re guaranteed three games, you’ve no excuses, really.”
Certainly, it’s more preferable than the previous double knockout system where clubs would play their first-round matches in April before the inter-county system began and then had to wait, usually until Cork were eliminated from their championships, before getting back in action. It often meant that winning the opener was in effect a punishment.
“It’s good,” Hickey says, “especially when you’ve three games under your belt now – you can’t use the excuse that you got caught.
“I really enjoyed it last year, playing nearly every week or only having two weeks off. We got straight through to the semi-final last year but it was just a week off and two weeks to prepare for a semi-final is what you want.
“It’s way better, I think. I think all the players are happy with it, that it’s over fast and there’s no waiting around.
“In the past, you might play the first round and then be waiting two months to play again.
“The county lads are training with us the whole time, it’s great to have them back. I just think it’s a way better system, I think they’re going to keep it like this – well, I hope they do anyway!”
In the shortened league cup competition in July, the Glen were in Hurling League 1A, with county stars Patrick Horgan and Robert Downey not featuring. They lost their first game to Sarsfields before bouncing back with a win over Newcestown and then overcame Blackrock but, despite two wins and a loss, they were unlucky to miss out on a semi-final spot as Sars and the Rockies had the same records and they progressed thanks to superior scoring difference.
However, with a full squad available to them, it’s likely that the Glen will be in the shake-up when the real thing starts this weekend.