THE Cork Premier Senior Hurling Championship throws in this weekend with this year’s competition promising to be one of the most open in years.
In last year’s championship the group stages were dominated by Sarsfields, Glen Rovers and Blackrock, but the resultant quarter-finals, with its knock-out element, predictably through this form guide out the window as Sars were knocked out by neighbours Erin’s Own in a thrilling derby.
The above big three from last year are kept apart again this year, but the draw has ensured that there will be some enthralling match-ups in the coming weeks.
Last year’s champions Blackrock kick off the defence of their title with a tricky tie against Erin’s Own at Páirc Uí Rinn on Friday night, and while the Glounthaune side will be aiming to emerge out of Group C you would expect the Rockies to have too much firepower dotted throughout their side for them at present.
The other game in Group C is a fascinating affair that pits St Finbarr’s against Charleville. The Barrs were well off the pace last year and were in relegation trouble at one point but with the likes of All-Ireland U20 winners Ethan Twomey, Ben Cunningham, Brian Hayes and Jack Cahalane emerging they will be expecting to kick on, although this year might be a year too soon.
Charleville, fresh up from the Senior A grade, could be anything, although they would require star man Darragh Fitzgibbon to return to top form to be contenders, as he never quite looked 100% for Cork this year.
Last year’s runners-up Glen Rovers open their campaign against a Douglas side that seem to have been everyone’s dark horses forever, without actually kicking onto contender status. The Glen retain a good few of the side that won back-to-back titles in 2015 and 2016, meaning the core of the side is ageing, but the youth of the likes of the Downey brothers, Luke Horgan, Simon Kennefick and Liam Coughlan ensures there is a good blend of youth and experience dotted throughout the side, and with Patrick Horgan up top anything is possible.
Last year Douglas managed to down a fancied Midleton side in the group stage, while they pushed both Sars and the Rockies all the way as well. With an attack bolstering scoring power of the likes of Shane Kingston, Alan Cadogan and Brian Turnbull they are always going to be dangerous, but the Glen’s superior defence should see them home in this one.
Newtownshandrum and Bishopstown clash in Fermoy in the other Group A clash on Sunday, and the north Cork side will fancy their chances against a Bishopstown side that only retained their Premier Senior status by the skin of their teeth last year.
Páirc Uí Rinn on Saturday sees all four Group B sides in action in what could be two rip-roaring ties. First up are east Cork rivals Midleton and Carrigtwohill, with Midleton hoping to make up for a disappointing 2020 and will be looking to hit the ground running this weekend.
The likes of Conor Lehane, Luke O’Farrell, Sam Quirke, Sean O’Leary-Hayes and Tommy O’Connell make Midleton clear favourites on paper, and with Carrigtwohill appearing to be over-reliant on Liam Gosnell for scores it would be a surprise if the Ben O’Connor-coached magpies are turned over.
Later on that day Sars face a Na Piarsaigh side who have flattered to deceive in recent years, with the northside club not quite managing to produce on the underage promise of a number of years ago. The Glanmire based side will not have enjoyed the manner of their exit in last year’s championship and will be looking to make amends this time around. This could end up being one of the ties of the opening weekend.
We have to wait until September 28 to see Imokilly and UCC lock horns once more. College dethroned the four-in-a-row chasing division last year by 1-23 to 1-20 so there might be some residue remaining from that clash, although given the nature of division and college sides it is difficult to know how many of last year’s teams will actually line out on the day.
You would certainly expect the winners of that one to fancy themselves as genuine title contenders, right up there with the Glen and the Rockies, especially with a good few of Cork’s recent U20 All-Ireland winners likely to be in action.