THOSE who were charged with introducing a different format for all the grades in the Cork County hurling championships must be very satisfied with themselves.
Hurling is in hibernation for a few weeks, with the footballers taking centre stage. However, on its resumption, there is much to look forward to and two games top the agenda.
The stakes remain high for all the teams, with qualification and relegation, but in the Premier SHC, two ties surely stand out.
Both are local derbies: One in the city, featuring the Barrs and the Rockies, two of Cork hurling’s greatest protagonists; the other is the collision of Midleton and Sarsfields, in the barony of Imokilly.
Both Sars and Midleton will go into this game knowing that whatever the outcome, their season has already been extended.
Both are on four points from their opening two games and that guarantees them at least a quarter-final spot.
However, a victory for either in their Group B showdown will send them through to a semi-final and avoid what could be a tricky quarter-final assignment. A draw in that game would be enough for Sars, as they have a better points difference. Both sides have been impressive in the group, putting up high scores and the potential in both attacking units is immense.
In fact, both sets of defenders will have their hands full, with Midleton trying to curb the influence of Aaron Myers, Daniel Hogan, Jack O’Connor, and James Sweeney, while Sars will have to contend with Luke O’Farrell, Cormac Beausang, Sam Quirke, and Conor Lehane.
Both have to be strong contenders for the big prize, but for the winners, the path will become that bit less hazardous.
In Group C, things are not as clear cut, with three teams still in the chase for the two qualifying places: The ’Barr’s, Erin’s Own, and the Rockies.
The Rockies are, however, a bit worse off than the other two, insofar as they have just two points on the table, while the other two have three.
So, what it all means is that the stakes could not be higher for all three.
And this brings us to the big city showdown of the Barrs and Rockies. A win for the Barrs and the reigning county champions will be eliminated.
The Barrs and Erin’s Own would then go through, irrespective of how the Caherlag side fare against Charleville, who are in peril, with no points from their two outings.
Of course, the clash of the Barrs and Rockies will bring back a thousand memories for the older generation, who packed the old Athletic Grounds in bygone, great days.
The Barrs have a better points difference going into the game, but it will have to be all hands on deck for both.
In Group A, Douglas are motoring along with great efficiency. Two wins from two and a win over Bishopstown will send them through to a semi-final with maximum points and that would be a massive plus for them.
The Town, of course, are not out of the hunt, because a win for them and a Glen loss to Newtownshandrum would see them overtake the Blackpool team and secure a quarter-final spot.
So, you could say that there will be something in the audience for everybody in those final group games.
And that’s the way the county board wanted it to be, all teams with something to play for and no dead-rubber games.
It’s still early days to be nailing the mast to one team or another, as far as predicting where the trophy might end up in November. In fact, there is no clear favourite at all, in this observer’s humble opinion.
Sars, Midleton, and Douglas have impressed in securing the maximum return from their two games and all three are through to the knockout stages, lessening the pressure that little bit.
The Barrs did lose a very substantial lead against Erin’s Own and they will be hoping that does not come back to haunt them on the final group weekend.
However, they are in a far better place than they were 12 months ago when the only thing on their minds was trying to avoid relegation.
The Glen and the Rockies still have work to do to extend their season and, of course, the colleges/divisional representatives will have something to say about it all.
Douglas, of course, are seeking to inscribe their name on the trophy for the very first time and it’s been so far, so good.
Erin’s Own’s character was exhibited in their stunning comeback against the ’Barr’s and you can never rule them out.
Defeating the Rockies and their fightback against the Barrs will certainly have delighted Martin Bowen.
So, it’s very much a case now of the calm before the storm, when the bar is going to be raised much higher from here to the finishing line.
And with the crowds increasing all the time, the battles on the pitch are sure to intensify, too.