In any golf major, Saturday is referred to as ‘moving day’, with the competitors putting themselves in a position for an assault on the Claret Jug, the green jacket, the Wanamaker Trophy or the big silver medal for winning the US Open.
Given that there are only three rounds of fixtures in the group stages of the Co-op SuperStores Cork Hurling Championships, things are a bit more compacted and, having waited so long, teams are facing make-or-break games just a week after starting their campaigns.
In the Premier IHC, last year’s intermediate A winners – and 2020 lower intermediate champions – Castlemartyr showed no signs of needing to adapt to the higher grade as they started off with a Group C win against Ballincollig last week.
This time round, the East Cork side face an intriguing battle against Kilworth, who enjoyed a good league campaign – qualifying for the Division 2 semi-finals – but then fell by five points against Ballinhassig last week. The pair clash in Ballynoe at 3pm on Saturday, an hour after Ballincollig take on Ballinhassig in Ballymaw.
Group A is very finely poised. In the opening round, Watergrasshill – who lost key attacker Shane O’Regan to Sarsfields – had Colin Cronin to thank for rescuing a draw for them against Éire Óg, while Castlelyons had five points to spare in a low-scoring game against Carrigaline, enough to put them top of the group.
The beaten finalists in each of the last two seasons – against Blarney in 2020 and Courcey Rovers last year – Castlelyons now face into an East Cork derby against the Hill in Rathcormac at 7.30pm tonight, with another win likely to be enough to ensure a knockout spot.
Ballinhassig is the venue at 7pm on Saturday for the meeting of Éire Óg, the 2020 IAHC winners, and Carrigaline, a game where the winners will be in a strong position ahead of the final set of matches – all the more important given that both clubs have strong dual commitments.
The games in Group 2 last week went the way of Inniscarra and Bandon, who were victorious against Youghal and Valley Rovers respectively. That means that if the meeting of the two winning sides produces a victor in Cloughduv tonight (7.30pm), they will be all but certain of progressing from the group.
Bandon, relegated from senior A last year and with a few notable retirements, dug deep to get the better of their neighbours Valleys last week, 1-16 to 0-14 the final score in Newcestown as Cathal Lynch netted while Mike Cahalane and Darren Crowley were among the point-scorers.
Valleys will look to harness some of their positive first-half play – they led by 0-11 to 0-8 at half-time – when they meet Youghal, a game that also takes place tonight, with Caherlag the venue at 7.30pm.
It’s exactly two years since Youghal won a hurling championship match, beating Courcey Rovers in the second group game in 2020, but they avoided the relegation play-off despite three defeats last year. A young side lost out to the experience of Inniscarra last week but the East Cork side will be keen to bounce back.