John Horgan: Cork County Board changes have revived club hurling

Sarsfields are through to the Premier SHC semi-final, with six other teams vying for the Seán Óg Murphy Cup...
John Horgan: Cork County Board changes have revived club hurling

Erin's Own's Robbie O'Flynn shoots over a point against Charleville during the Co-Op Superstores Cork PSHC at Ballyclough. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

YOU certainly earn what you get with the round-robin format that was introduced into their championships by the Cork County Board.

For a team to be successful now under the current format and unless you are one of the lucky teams to go straight through to a semi-final, they will have to negotiate six hurdles if the trophy is to be lifted at the end of the campaign.

The three group games are a minefield in themselves with just the two making it through to the knockout stage.

Then if you can keep the run going you have a quarter-final, a sem-final and a big day out at Páirc Uí Chaoimh to overcome. There might have been a little scepticism when this format was introduced but it has worked out brilliantly in all the grades.

It’s a very fair and equal system and every club side is guaranteed a minimum of three games when once upon a time it was just the one.

Take the PSHC this season, the County Board must be delighted with how it has panned out and they must be licking their lips in anticipation of what is coming down the tracks.

You are going to have three potentially cracking quarter-finals which include two local derbies, one in East Cork and the other in the city.

Midleton and Erin’s Own will have the stage to themselves in East Cork while the Rockies and Douglas will have a real southside feel to it.

In that game, you will have one of the most decorated clubs in the land in Blackrock while Douglas are still waiting to make the big breakthrough.

 Robbie Cotter, Blackrock in action against the Barrs. Picture: Larry Cummins.
Robbie Cotter, Blackrock in action against the Barrs. Picture: Larry Cummins.

But when their paths collide they will do so on equal terms and whilst the favourites tag will be placed around the reigning champions from Church Road, there will be a school of thought that will give Douglas every chance.

Only two clubs secured the maximum return from the group stage and Douglas were one of them alongside Sarsfields who will have a free weekend when the three quarter-finals are staged as they have made it through to the semi-final with a far superior points difference.

In the SAHC section, no team secured the six points on offer and that gave an illustration of how tight it was there.

Back to Sarsfields and the depth in resources in the Riverstown club was clearly illustrated with the club’s second team gaining the maximum points in their three group games.

They made it through to the semi-final as well and that has to be viewed as a very significant feat.

Both of the Riverstown teams may or may not collect the big prize but the structures in the club and how well the emphasis on the underage system has worked has been clear for everyone to see.

Midleton are safely qualified in the Premier championship too and their second team in the Intermediate A competition have qualified for the knockout stage too. That accomplishment has to be lauded too.

Staying in the East Cork division, last season’s county junior champions, Lisgoold who lifted the title just a few short months ago now find themselves through to the semi-final of the Lower IHC.

The team from that part of the world were winning the East Cork JHC for the first time last season and their progress in the higher grade thus far has to be noted.

On the other side of the coin, you have Russell Rovers who contested the final of that grade against Castlemartyr last season but now find themselves in a make or break game with Grenagh to avoid dropping back down to junior.

Castlemartyr, of course, gained the maximum return in the Intermediate A competition and are berthed in a semi-final.

The margins have been very tight in most cases across all the grades but what one has found over the past number of weeks has been the interest displayed in the championship as a whole.

People have been asking how things have been working out, who is best placed to make the quarters, who will get the semi-final spots and so on. When everyone is talking it tells you that levels of interest are very high and that’s the way it should be.

BIGGER PICTURE

Outside of Cork, things are moving along nicely too. The Waterford championship has been concluded with a similar story to what it has been for the previous seven seasons, Ballygunner Lifting the title again.

For Echo readers, the accomplishment of Kilmallock in reaching the Limerick county final was very interesting as they are coached by The Echo hurling columnist Tony Considine.

Getting into a Limerick final is no easy task and Kilmallock will now play Patrickswell in the final after the latter ousted the reigning champions and favourites again, Na Piarsaigh.

The final in the home of the All-Ireland champions is now one to look forward to in the coming weeks and we’ll certainly be keeping a close eye on columnist Considine.

Across all the counties, the clubs are having their time now, the crowds are back and the hurling has been very good for the most part.

Here on Leeside, the big ball game takes centre stage this weekend but for hurling fans across the county, those still directly involved and the neutrals too, there is much to look forward to.

The new format and how the grades have played out thus far suggests the best is still to come.

The three Premier SHC quarter-finals are all 50/50 games, no more, no less and that’s the way you want it to be.

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