WITH the knockout stages of the Co-Op Superstores Hurling Championships getting underway this weekend, a number of the teams are in the luxurious position of looking on and observing what develops in the forthcoming quarter-finals.
Castlelyons are one such club, impressive winners of Group B in the PIHC, their points of interest this weekend will be the games between Kilworth and Valley Rovers and Ballinhassig against Carrigaline.
These four sides along with Courcey Rovers, who made it directly to the last four, are on their day all capable of big performances. Only six remain in contention to lift silverware and earn that golden ticket to the senior grader and Castleyons know that despite being spoken about in glowing terms, the short road ahead is a tough one.
But so far, the East Cork side, under manager Ciaran McGann have done all that has been asked of them. On the back of that bitter disappointment, last season of losing to Blarney in the final, 2021 was always going to be a year to stand up and be counted.
Thus, they are a club on a mission and nothing short of ultimate triumph will suffice. To date, the form line has been very encouraging. Group wins over Inniscarra, Valley Rovers and Watergrasshill were achieved with style with a combined margin of 28 points. Their scoring return of 5-63, averaging 26 points per match leaves Castlelyons as the competition's top scorers.
Even without the services of Cork inter-county man Colm Spillane, Castlylyons have looked a very assured outfit.
The good news is that Spillane is set for return to action sooner rather than later. After taking part in the warm-up routine in the team's most recent win against Inniscarra, Castlelyons coach Johnny Crowley confirmed that his star man is on track for a return to action.
"Colm will definitely be involved in the semi-final in a few weeks. He has continued to make very steady progress on the road to recovery. We would hope to have a full squad available for the next round, depending on injuries in training and games and we will definitely need everybody whoever we are playing.
"This is an absolutely cracking championship, probably one of the best in Cork for equality. It has always been incredibly tight. When you look at the quality of teams left, they are all very capable of winning the competition. It makes for fantastic fayre over the next few weeks," said Crowley.
Colm Spillane's participation would be a huge boost after the bitter disappointment of sustaining a hand injury inside a minute of last year's decider. He had been in outstanding form playing in the centre-forward role through the season.
"We were really disappointed it did not work out for us in the final last year. Colm was a huge loss to us on the night, losing him as we did after only thirty seconds. He is a huge guy, a great leader and a great club man.
"Standing on the sideline that night, it was like somebody sucked the life out of us when he came off so early."
"But to be fair we have regrouped. I think we're playing a really good brand of hurling and all the lads have bought into what we are doing.
"Now our next objective is getting over the semi-final. When you reach that stage of the championship every opposition is going to be huge. We will take whatever is ahead and begin to do our homework on them and concentrate totally on that game."
Strength in depth is also a key point as the season ages and when one sees the likes of Michael Spillane and Barry Murphy coming off the bench in the last round against Inniscarra, it suggests there is real competition for those starting jerseys.
It's now 24 years since the likes of Barry Fitzgerald, Timmy McCarthy and William O'Riordan starred with Castlyons and Imokilly in a non-stop run of success. Castlelyons won junior and intermediate titles back to back and players from the club were one of the cornerstones as Imokilly also won senior titles in 1997 and 1998.
They were special days for the cub and there is no doubt that something could be brewing again almost a quarter of a century on.
A new generation is now gelling together; we watch with interest.