Talking points from the Cork club football championship

Éamonn Murphy looks at the key issues raised in Cork GAA last weekend, including Nemo's demise which opens the door for new Premier Senior Football champions
Talking points from the Cork club football championship

Conor Horgan, Nemo Rangers, takes the mark against Luke McGrath, Douglas. Picture: Larry Cummins.

AFTER a packed schedule of matches, the knockout stages of the Cork club football championships are set. 

Here we look at the three biggest talking points from the weekend.

1. WIDE OPEN PREMIER SENIOR CHAMPIONSHIP:

Nemo Rangers don't lift the Andy Scannell Cup every season, it just feels that way. Since their breakthrough success in 1972 they've won a staggering 22 senior counties, 10 ahead of the defunct Lees club on the roll of honour. 

They were going for three in a row this season, having landed four of the past six championships. 

But now they're out. Turning around from winning the delayed 2020 final to the 2021 campaign just a week later was always going to be demanding.

Their defeat last weekend at the hands of Douglas, having also lost their first PSFC group game against Valley Rovers, will leave all the remaining teams fancying their chances. Douglas got a bye to the semi-finals as the top seed and will meet Castlehaven, provided they get past Valleys. 

On the other side of the draw, it'll be St Finbarr's/Éire Óg v Duhallow/Clonakilty, but the last four pairings will be revised if necessary to avoid the repeat pairings of Barrs-Clon and Douglas-Valleys.

The Haven, the Barrs and Duhallow are the natural front-runners to prevail because of their regular appearances in the latter stages of the championship, but Éire Óg have significant momentum across a number of campaigns in both codes. They were PIFC victors in 2019 and secured last season's SAFC, while also delivering in the IAHC.

For Douglas bainisteoir Ray Keating, the challenge will be balancing the break until the semi-final, though those involved in the club's hurling team have a huge quarter-final against Blackrock this Sunday. That includes key players Brian Hartnett and Nathan Walsh, though there are far fewer dual operators than before.

With their booming underage numbers and host of Cork seniors, Douglas are overdue a county. They did make the SFC decider in 2008, losing to Nemo.

Has their time arrived? It's hard to tell, which is why the business end of the PSFC promises to enthrall. 

2. BISHOPSTOWN BATTLE RELEGATION:

Like Douglas, Bishopstown have challenged for senior counties in both codes on a few occasions in the modern era. They lost the hurling final in 2012 and were beaten in the 2004 and 2002 football deciders. 

In 2014 they made the semi-finals of the SFC but after a few disappointing campaigns, they were relegated from the top tier last season.

Now they face a very tough relegation play-off against Bantry Blues to avoid the drop again. 

 Colm O'Driscoll, Bishopstown, in SAFC action against Knocknagree. Picture: Larry Cummins.
Colm O'Driscoll, Bishopstown, in SAFC action against Knocknagree. Picture: Larry Cummins.

They struggled for scores in their three SAFC group games, hitting 0-5, 1-8 and 0-10, and Bantry will have the marquee footballer when they meet, in Cork senior Ruairí Deane.

On a more positive note, their minor footballers were crowned Premier 2 champions on Monday, roaring back to reel in Éire Óg. Earlier this season, their U15s won the Féile. Green shoots. 

3. NEW DAWN FOR THE REBELS:

With Keith Ricken as manager and John Clearly as coach, Cork fans can't have any complaints with the set-up tasked with rebooting the Cork senior footballers over the next two seasons.

Ricken has delivered time and again in a host of roles. He won a minor football county as St Vincent's manager in 1998, a breakthrough Sigerson Cup with CIT, and an U20 All-Ireland for Cork in 2019, beating Kerry, Tyrone and Dublin along the way. 

Ricken's also had success on the hurling front, with CIT making a senior county final in 2011 and Carrigtwohill reaching the semi-finals two years ago. 

Cleary is a winner too, at U21 level with Cork in the noughties, more recently with Cork's minor ladies footballers and also his club Castlehaven. He was a strong candidate to take over as Cork manager himself in 2013 and '15 but it never worked out.

There's plenty of experience and hunger in the backroom too, including Éire Óg's Barry Corkery whose work as a performance consultant assisted Cork to minor and U20 football All-Irelands, and Blarney and Blackrock to hurling counties. 

Éire Óg duo Barry Corkery and Conor McGoldrick after this season's U20 Munster football success. Picture: George Hatchell.
Éire Óg duo Barry Corkery and Conor McGoldrick after this season's U20 Munster football success. Picture: George Hatchell.

That Ray Keane, county-winning boss of the Barrs in 2018 and now residing in Éire Óg territory, is the brother of outgoing Kerry manager Peter, adds to the interest.

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