FOR the first time in 19 years, Blackrock will begin the Cork County SHC as defending champions.
The Rockies bridged an 18-year gap last season when they defeated Northside rivals Glen Rovers in the final and the big poser now is, can they defend that title?
Defending a title is never easy, all the more so in this competition.
Over the past 20 years, the two most celebrated clubs in the county have been Sarsfields and Newtownshandrum with both successful on four different occasions. However, neither of them managed to retain the title from one year to the next.
Blackrock were successful in 2001 and 2002 while Erin’s Own did it in 2006 and 2007 before the Glen to put back-to-back titles together in 2015 and 2016 in that period.
Imokilly bettered that in the years 2017, 2018 and 2019 with their three-in-a-row and now it’s the turn of the Rockies to try and put two together again.
They will enter this year’s competition which begins next weekend as one of the very fancied sides and in their favour is the fact that the pressure of having gone 18 years without a title is now lifted.
The round-robin format has been very successful and there’s no reason why it should not be again.
We have three groups of four teams with the top two going through to the knockout stages and a glance at the composition of those three groups suggests that nothing will come easy in the qualification process.
The Rockies will be relying heavily on the group of players that came through last season and it was their squad depth that proved so beneficial in the old trophy returning to Church Road.
Players like Tadgh Deasy, young Robbie Cotter, Alan O’Callaghan, John Cashman and others were introduced at critical times in a few games and that made a huge difference in their ultimate triumph.
In the final against the Glen, Cotter delivered 2-2 with Deasy securing 1-1 and O’Callaghan 0-2.
In this season’s Group C they will come up against Erin’s Own, Charleville and the Barrs and nothing will come easily there one would think.
Charleville won a great county Senior A title last season after putting the Glen to the pin of their collar the previous year and they possess a fine squad of players, some of whom have had a winning mentality since winning the junior championship.
Erin’s Own lost in the semi-final to the Glen last season after eliminating Sarsfields in the quarters and there’s a lot of seasoned campaigners as well as some fine young talent in their ranks.
The ‘Barrs will have no happy memories of last season, losing heavily to the Glen and Na Piarsaigh before defeating Carrigtwoill, rather impressively, it must be said, in their last outing.
They also had a change of management midseason but on the plus side, their minor team produced some wonderful hurling in winning the Premier County minor title and, whilst it may be too early right now for those young guns, the expectation is that the Togher team will be much better this time under Ronan Curran.
Blackrock should emerge from this group and they could be joined by Charleville.
There are three East Cork teams in Group B, Sars, Midleton and Carrigtwohill and they are joined by Na Piarsaigh.
That should provide us with a few interesting local derby encounters with Sars and Midleton, the more fancied teams here.
Midleton were a big disappointment last season, failing to emerge from their group and the message from team coach Ben O’Connor will be, must do a lot better this time Carrigtwohill will relish those two East Cork derby games but will be outsiders but there will be no complacency by any side facing them.
Their meeting with Na Piarsaigh will be a repeat of last season when they could not be separated after drawing 1-17 apiece.
And it goes without saying that the city team will not make it easy for any of their three East Cork opponents.
In the remaining Group A, you have the Glen, now under Ian Lynam after the very successful tenure of Richie Kelleher, Douglas, Newownshandrum and Bishopstown.
Douglas had a great win over Midleton last season but lost to the Rockies in the quarter-final and their undoubted potential has yet to be realised.
Newtown will always be Newtown, you dismiss them at your peril but last season was disappointing for them, losing heavily to the Rockies at the group stage and failing to make the knockout stages.
The Glen should be a leading title contender again but Bishopstown lost all three group games last season and are outsiders in this group.
A betting person would be putting the few bob on the Glen and Douglas to emerge from that group.
So, our six to make the knockout stages are Blackrock, Erin’s Own, Sarsfields, Midleton, the Glen and Douglas.
Turning to the divisions/colleges section, Imokilly and UCC are the more fancied sides to battle it out. Last season the College ousted Imokilly in that section and subsequently reached the semi-final before losing to the Rockies in an absolute thriller after extra time.
So, much to look forward to and despite the disappointment of the Cork loss to Limerick, hurling in the county is on an upward trajectory and that should heighten interest over the coming weeks and months.