Change in Cork championship system makes for meetings of familiar foes

West Cork rivals Carbery Rangers and Newcestown face a crunch Premier SFC clash for the second year in a row
Change in Cork championship system makes for meetings of familiar foes

Carbery Rangers' John Hayes is tackled by James Kelleher of Newcestown in last year's Bons Secours Hospital Premier SFC clash at Ballinascarthy. The sides meet again this weekend. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

The change to the new county championship system for 2020 has brought both welcome and unwelcome effects.

On the negative side, the fact that so many matches are on around the same time means that neutral spectators are an endangered, if not extinct, species. It could be the memory playing tricks but going back two or three decades and more, a big game would be a focal point for a few weeks, with people coming from miles around to witness it (always handy to keep an eye on the neighbours).

It meant the occasional late start as people milled in and there were long delays as the car park – usually a field next to the grounds – slowly emptied. No doubt there is some romanticisation there, but what use is experience only to get misty-eyed about an idealised version of the past?

The corollary is that all the matches provide their own sub-plots, especially with repeat meetings year on year. Previously, even with the second chance (and short-lived third opportunity for teams beaten twice), teams could occupy the same grade and not meet one another in the championship for years. While there is still the chance of that happening, the seeding system used for the group-stage draws and the greater proliferation of games means that that is less likely and there is potential for rivalries to be built up due to regular meetings over a concentrated period of time.

It’s something that Newcestown know all too well over the past two campaigns. Last Sunday, they defeated Cloyne in the senior A hurling championship for the second successive year, to set up a winner-take-all battle for a knockout spot against Killeagh, whom they also overcame last season. The other side in their group, Fr O’Neills – with whom they drew in their opener – were the team to knock the Carbery outfit out of last year’s championship at the semi-final stage.

In 2020, their football group included themselves, Castlehaven, Carbery Rangers and Ilen Rovers, while this time around the only difference is that senior A champions Éire Óg are there instead of Ilen.

Last autumn, a win over Ilen and a defeat to the Haven set up a knockout-style meeting with Ross in their last group game and Newcestown won that game in Ballinascarthy to advance to the quarter-finals. This time around, the two clubs meet on Sunday in Clonakilty, having both lost their openers – Newcestown to the Haven and Ross to Éire Óg – and so it is a battle to stay alive ahead of the final match.

Will last year count for much? Newcestown will hope so. While they started well on that occasion with an early Tadgh Twomey goal, Carbery Rangers bounced back and Brian Shanahan’s goal just before half-time put them 1-6 to 1-5 in front.

However, Newcestown began the second half as they had the first, with two Daniel Twomey points sandwiching one by his brother Tadgh, and they led from there to the end. Jack Meade’s goal put them eight clear with ten minutes left, 2-11 to 1-6, though Mark Hodnett’s goal did give Ross some hope.

Newcestown held out to win by 2-12 to 2-9, securing second place in the group and a quarter-final spot against St Finbarr’s.

“We were very good at times,” their manager Tom Wilson said afterwards.

“We started both halves in a blaze of scores and driving on and getting ahead, but in the last ten minutes of the first half and the last five minutes of the second half, they took over.

“Having said that, we were up 2-11 to 1-6 at one stage. It was a case of how much injury time would be played – we felt six or seven minutes was a bit much but when you’re ahead you’ll always think that.

“Once both [hurling and football] teams are winning away and the spirits are up and fellas are recovering properly, things go fine.”

They will look for a repeat, but Ross will have other ideas, especially after failing to qualify last year. It could be a classic West Cork tussle.

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