AHEAD of the final set of fixtures in the group stages of the Co-op SuperStores Cork PIHC, just one side – Ballinhassig – are sure of their place in the knockout section of the competition.
The south-east side top Group C after two rounds of games, though they are not yet guaranteed to finish in first place. Having beaten Aghada and Ballincollig, their final encounter in against Kilworth in Glantane (all PIHC games take place at 7.30pm on Saturday). Conor Desmond, Ger Collins, Simon O’Neill and Evan Cullinane have all impressed in attack for them.
Kilworth began with a draw against Ballincollig and then overcame Aghada, leaving them on three points. The evergreen Noel McNamara, Eoin Carey, Liam Whelan and Will Condon were all among the scores in that game. A win against Ballincollig would see them finish in first place, while a draw would ensure the status quo remained in place.
However, should Ballinhassig make it three wins from three – and almost certainly progressing straight to the semi-finals – then that would open up the possibility of Ballincollig qualifying if they were to beat Aghada. Currently, Kilworth have a scoring difference of plus eight while Ballincollig’s is minus eight, so the two results would need to be of sufficient size to force a 16-point turnaround, but stranger things have happened.
Ballincollig will look to Stephen Wills, Seán Walsh and Cian Dorgan to inspire them while Aghada – needing a good result to avoid the relegation play-off – will hope that scorer-in-chief William Leahy is available again after missing Imokilly’s Premier SHC wins over UCC and Seandún last week.
In Group A, Ballinhassig’s Carrigdhoun rivals Courcey Rovers lead the way on four points after wins over Carrigaline and Youghal, but it is a section where things are still up in the air to a considerable degree.
Courceys, for whom Richard Sweetnam and Cork panellist Seán Twomey have excelled, face Éire Óg in Cloughduv in their final game tomorrow night. Another victory for the Ballinspittle/Ballinadee side will of course be enough to leave them top of the pile – though they would need to post a large winning margin to take either of the automatic semi-final spots.
The 2020 intermediate A champions Éire Óg opened their campaign with a win against Youghal before losing to Carrigaline in their last outing. They will call on the attacking prowess of Kevin Hallissey, Colm O’Callaghan and Ciarán Sheehan as they seek to topple Courceys – and if they were to win, then a Carrigaline win against Youghal would make it a three-way tie on four points, necessitating the use scoring difference.
Similarly, if Youghal were to turn their form around and beat Carrigaline while Courceys beat Éire Óg, it would be Courceys on six with the other three sides on two. Last year, Courceys emerged from such a scenario in their group.
Brett Moloney and Oisín Hill will be among those looking to get Youghal off the mark as they seek to keep alive slim qualification hopes and stay clear of the relegation play-off, while Carrigaline’s main men are Brian Kelleher, David Drake, David Griffin and Rob O’Shea.
As with Group C, there is a meeting of first against second in Group B, where last year’s beaten finalists Castlelyons have enjoyed a good start, beating Watergrasshill and Valley Rovers. Their next assignment is against Inniscarra in Riverstown.
While Colm Spillane is a long-term injury absentee, the East Cork side don’t lack for firepower with James Kearney, Anthony Spillane and Alan Fenton making their presence felt on the scoreboard thus far while Colm Barry has impressed in defence. Seán O’Donoghue’s tour de force was key in Scarra beating Watergrasshill, with Fergal O’Leary also to the fore.
If Castlelyons avoid defeat and take first place – with a semi-final spot in their sights, too – then a win for Valleys in Páirc Uí Rinn against Watergrasshill, who are still searching for their first points, will be enough for the Innishannon side to qualify in second place. Rovers will be driven by Chris O’Leary, Colm Butler and Eoin O’Reilly while the Hill’s dangermen are Shane Óg O’Regan and Seán Desmond.
Were Inniscarra and Valleys to win, then three teams would be tied on four points; triumphs for Castlelyons and Watergrasshill would leave a trio in second on two – scoring difference would determine in either eventuality.