Courceys and Ballygiblin aim to show Cork are still strong at Munster intermediate and junior level

Changes to county championship affected provincial representation
Courceys and Ballygiblin aim to show Cork are still strong at Munster intermediate and junior level

Brothers Ger and Mike Millerick of Fr O'Neills  celebrate after defeating Ballysaggart in the Munster Club IHC final in Fraher Field in  Dungarvan two years ago. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Cork’s travails in the Munster Club SHC have been well-documented.

Not since Newtownshandrum in 2009 has a Leeside club come out on top in the provincial competition, with every other Munster county enjoying at least one title in the interim. Before Newtown’s wins of 2003, 2005 and 2009, you have to go back to Midleton in 1987 for the last time another Cork club was triumphant.

However, in the intermediate and junior grades, Cork have enjoyed supremacy. The Munster junior championship was first run in 2001 as an unofficial competition and there have been 13 Cork wins in the 19 editions – Waterford are next on three. At intermediate level, the provincial championships were inaugurated in 2003 and Cork have eight wins from 17, with Clare’s three the next best.

The hope is that those records will be maintained this weekend as Courcey Rovers and Ballygiblin contest provincial finals, though it should be noted that the landscape has changed to some extent since the last renewals two years ago.

While it’s always dangerous to extrapolate too much from one or two stand-alone matches, the outcomes in these games should also be indicative in terms of the restructuring of the Cork championships at the end of 2019, something which theoretically put Cork clubs at a disadvantage in the lower grades.

Only in 2003 were the Cork entrants for the Munster senior, intermediate and junior championships the winners of the first, second and third tiers, respectively. With the county intermediate championship split in two for 2004, it meant that junior was now the fourth level, though, as seen, it didn’t impact hugely on Cork’s performance.

The changes voted in for the 2020 season were seismic, though. As well as reintroducing group stages four decades after they were last tried, the championships were reconfigured into sections of 12.

The creation of senior A between the now premier senior and premier intermediate meant that Cork’s Munster intermediate representatives were the third-tier winners, the 25th-ranked clubs in the county. In contrast to that, Kerry has eight senior clubs competing against eight divisions, meaning that their intermediate champions are the ninth-best and the junior champions 25th.

On top of that, with the lower intermediate hurling championship also brought into being as a fifth tier – initially intended for two years, but extended to three as a result of the impact of Covid-19 – junior A is now level six, the champions theoretically ranked number 61 below the five sections of 12. However, this was the case before the senior and intermediate restructuring too.

As it happens, on Sunday Courceys face the Kerry senior champions Kilmoyley, but it’s interesting to look at the intermediate representatives from the other four counties. In the semi-final, the Ballinspittle/Ballinadee side edged past Mungret St Paul’s of Limerick – with 12 senior clubs on Shannonside, there is an eight-team premier intermediate, meaning the champions are 13th-best in the county.

Waterford has a two-pronged intermediate championship, with the East and West divisions running their own competitions. In 2021, it was Dunhill who came out on top to progress to the 13-team senior grade, while Smith O’Briens of Clare were the notional 18th best in the Banner County, with 17 senior clubs.

In Tipperary, Moyne-Templetuohy won the intermediate championship but lost by ten points to Kilmoyley. Tipp have won just two Munster Club IHCs but, with senior A and B grades and 16 teams in each, their representatives were ranked number 33 in the Premier County.

That will change from next year though as the Séamus Ó Riain Cup has had its status changed from senior B to premier intermediate and so the winners of that will be the side advancing into Munster, giving them a stronger chance of making an impact in the provincial competition.

Victories for Courceys and/or Ballygiblin would be great for the clubs themselves, obviously, but they would also go some way towards easing any worries that the changes had weakened Cork in competitions where the county had done well.

We wish them all the best and hope that further glory awaits if they overcome their challenges. Now if only we could sort Cork’s record at Munster senior level…

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