IT’S almost contradictory to suggest that 2020 losing county football finalists had a distinct advantage going into the present season which reaches a conclusion tomorrow.
It’s no coincidence that four teams, who suffered the acute disappointment of seeing their dreams shattered on the biggest day of the year, once again qualified.
And it could have been all five but for St Finbarr’s keeper John Kerins pulling off a stunning save in the dramatic penalty shoot-out against Castlehaven in that thrilling Premier Senior semi-final.
Two of the four returning finalists went one better this time, Mallow in senior A and Boherbue in junior A and the others, Kanturk and Mitchelstown, attempt to do the same tomorrow.
Kanturk, who lost to Knocknagree in the premier intermediate decider, again encounter Duhallow opponents in Newmarket while Mitchelstown, who were pipped by Rockchapel, take on in-form Iveleary in the intermediate A showdown.
They form an attractive double-header at Páirc Uí Chaoimh with the intermediate A final throwing in at 1pm and the premier intermediate decider at 3pm.
There are a number of reasons why 2020 runners-up again made so much progress in their respective championships.
One is the level of fitness they carried forward from one campaign to the next because of the impacts of Covid on delaying last season’s finals until the summer.
There was practically an immediate turnaround from August for the finals to September for the start of the group stages of the new championship.
A second was the actual format itself, the second installment of three group games instead of the old championship regime of one match and a losing round for the vanquished.
For example, the Haven, who lost to Nemo Rangers, won all three games in Group B against Newcestown, newcomers Éire Óg and Carbery Rangers.
And Mallow did the same in Senior A, topping Group C with victories over Fermoy, Clyda Rovers and Bantry Blues to qualify directly for the semi-finals.
Kanturk maintained that pattern in Group A in premier intermediate, preserving a 100 percent record against St Nick’s, Macroom and Naomh Abán to also avoid the quarter-finals and move straight to a last-four engagement.
Mitchelstown provided the only exception in that they lost their opening game in Group A in Intermediate A to Aghabullogue, but recovered to deny Glanmire and Kildorrery and top the section.
Interestingly, the Town, Aghabullogue and Glanmire finished level on four points apiece, but the first pair advanced on a +22 and +21 scoring difference respectively.
The junior championship is different because of its divisional base and then a county section, making Boherbue’s progress all the more praiseworthy because of their greater number of obstacles in their path to eventual glory.
And a third reason is the obvious desire to compensate, a greater will-to-win that might otherwise be the case.
The shutters come down on a year that has simply flown by and before we know it the 2022 season will be up and running.
We’re probably getting ahead of ourselves here, but the Premier Senior Championship next season has the potential to throw up a genuinely named Group of Death.
That is because seedings are based on qualifying and not the knock-out phase as you might otherwise expect.
So, Pot 1 will have Douglas, the Barrs and the Haven with Clonakilty, Valley Rovers and Éire Óg in Pot 2.
Pot 3 is interesting because it will contain Nemo Rangers, who finished third in their group behind Douglas and Valleys, along with Newcestown and Ballincollig. In Pot 4, there’ll be Carbery Rangers, Carrigaline and newcomers Mallow.
The potential is there for a group consisting of champions the Barrs, runners-up Clonakilty, Nemo and Carbery Rangers. That would be some craic!
Meanwhile, the opening shots in the Munster Club Senior Football Championship will be fired tomorrow with a couple of quarter-finals involving Limerick winners Newcastle West hosting Waterford champions, The Nire, this afternoon while Éire Óg from Clare taking on Tipperary dual champions Loughmore-Castleiney in Ennis tomorrow.
The Kerry county final between Austin Stacks and Kerins O’Rahillys is on tomorrow as is the relegation decider between Dr Croke’s and Legion.