Cork GAA: First-round football losers looking to reverse trends

Since the inception of the group-stage format, just nine teams out of 49 across the four football grades have lost their first match and still made the knockout stages
Cork GAA: First-round football losers looking to reverse trends

Mitchelstown's Shane Beston breaks from Iveleary's Kevin Manning in last year's Bon Secours Hospital Cork IAFC final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Mitchelstown reached the final despite losing their opening match. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

IN late 2019, Cork County Board ratified the return to a round-robin-based championship system for the first time in three and a half decades.

Obviously, nobody knew back then exactly what lay in store – it was envisaged at the time that the first games in hurling and football would be played in April, as had been the way under the old double knockout format, with action them resuming in August. External factors meant that the mythical split-season arrived sooner than expected but, even without that knowledge at the time, the change was generally welcomed.

Greater clarity around the schedule was a major selling point as well as the streamlined 12-team championship grades. Also appealing to clubs was the guarantee of three games, taking away the ‘must win’ pressure of the first match.

Of course, it was possible in the back-door era to lose your first match and bounce back to win a championship – indeed, in 2011, Newmarket won the county premier intermediate football championship after starting off with two defeats – but the sense was that a team was put on the back foot whereas it was easier to bounce back in the group format.

This weekend, 24 Cork football teams (there were 26 games played across the four grades, two were draws) will look to show that an opening-round loss was not a debilitating setback. And, given that the top two teams in each group played each other three weeks ago, logic suggests that the losers of those matches should be well-placed to regroup and get back on track – half of all defeated sides, essentially.

BAD OMENS

However, with two years’ worth of data to look at, we can say that unfortunately for the beaten sides, the portents are not good.

In 2020, with one draw in the opening round of games, there were 25 teams that had lost their first match (six each in premier senior, senior A and premier intermediate, seven in intermediate A, where the draw had been) and only four of them managed to make it out of their groups.

At the highest grade, Ballincollig lost to St Finbarr’s but then recovered to beat Clonakilty and Carrigaline; similarly, Valley Rovers knew that there was no shame in losing to reigning champions Nemo Rangers – who would eventually go on to retain their crown in August 2021 – and they managed to beat Douglas and Bishopstown to secure second place behind Nemo.

In senior A, Mallow lost to Kiskeam but beat Éire Óg and Bantry Blues to end up in a three-way tie on four points. Kiskeam were the unlucky team to lose out on scoring difference as Mallow and Éire Óg went on and met again in the final – but Éire Óg reversed the result of the group game.

The six teams to win in the opening round of the 2020 Premier IFC were the six to make the knockout stages while in the IAFC Glanworth were the only side to turn things around, losing to Mitchelstown before overcoming Mayfield and Adrigole.

Last year, it was a similar tale, albeit with a slightly improved return – two games were drawn so there were 24 first-round losers, with five of them reaching the knockout stages.

None of the five were from the premier senior grade, though, while Dohenys were the only senior A outfit to lose their opener – against Béal Áthan Ghaorthaidh – and still advance, after winning West Cork derbies against Bandon and O’Donovan Rossa. They went on to make the semi-finals, losing to St Michael’s after extra time.

Nemo Rangers were the only Premier IFC side to reverse their trend, a defeat to Cill na Martra followed by wins over Rockchapel and St Vincent’s, while three teams across the four IAFC groups did so.

Glanworth, perhaps calmed by their 2020 experience, were unfazed by a 2-15 to 0-5 loss to Kilshannig and responded by beating Adrigole and Glenville. Similarly, Ballydesmond lost to Dromtarriffe but then beat Gabriel Rangers and Ballinora.

And Mitchelstown, despite a defeat to Aghabullogue in their first game, actually ended up topping their group, as they beat Glanmire and Kildorrery and then had the best scoring difference, with Aghabullogue through in second while Glanmire were eliminated after two wins and just one loss.

Mitchelstown went on to make the final, losing to Iveleary, and showing that an opening loss can be put to one side – but it’s not common.

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