AFTER their early setbacks, all the leading contenders for the Cork County Premier SHC are back in the chase and believing that, when the business end of the campaign comes around, they will have a lot to say.
Midleton, Sars, and the Glen had put themselves under some pressure after their opening day losses, but their subsequent recovery last weekend indicated that lessons had been learned and the bit of extra work on the training ground had paid off.
Of course, they are not out of the woods yet, as far as qualification from the group stage is concerned, but as a bit of a hibernation period is now entered, all three are in a better place than they were in the week previous.
At this stage in the race, and it’s still very much in its infancy, the general consensus would seem to be that it’s wide open with no clear favourite like there is in Waterford where Ballygunner are very much the fancy to extend their phenomenal run of success.
On Leeside you have Douglas going great guns again after very impressive victories over Midleton and Kanturk.
So far, so good for them, but it was a similar situation last season before the wheels fell off the wagon in the knockout stage.
As a unit, the team is playing well and the confidence levels have to be at a nice height, but at the same time it will be important from a management viewpoint that things are kept very much on an even keel.
It will be important too, and this applies to all clubs, that the key players don’t suffer any injuries; the likes of Douglas’ Shane Kingston, Patrick Horgan for the Glen, Conor Lehane for Midleton and so on.
Club teams do not possess the strength in depth that inter-county teams have and there is a greater dependency on the first 15.
Of course, all teams do have options on the bench, but they would all be hoping and praying that the key personnel stay injury-free.
Can you imagine what a loss any of the aforementioned players would be if they were not available?
We saw over the opening two rounds the importance of the free-taker and the vast contribution those players make; again Kingston, Horgan, Lehane, Aaron Myers for Sars, young Ben Cunningham for the Barrs, Alan Connolly for the Rockies, and more.
Last weekend, Cork captain Mark Coleman registered 13 points for Blarney against Killeagh in the SAHC, all of them from the placed ball.
It has nearly reached a stage now that a team must possess a free-taker who dissects the sticks from anywhere up to 100 yards out.
There is huge emphasis now on having the conversion rate at a very high level, otherwise the outcome of a lot of games might not be what you want it to be.
Much of Erin’s Own’s success down the years has been due to the excellence of Eoghan Murphy from frees and 65s and his near pin-point accuracy was vital.
That’s not saying their success was all down to him; of course not, because other contributed handsomely too but it was a big factor.
That again applies to all clubs and at all levels of the game.
Staying with Erin’s Own, team boss Martin Bowen will be delighted with having two wins from two under the belt and qualification for the knockout stages all but secured.
Their victory over Na Piarsaigh last weekend had the positive of raising six green flags, but conversely, there was the negative of conceding four.
In the end, the job was completed, but work will be done in trying to ensure that such a concession is not repeated going forward.
With a 100% return thus far, Douglas and Erin’s Own are positioned very strongly in their respective groups, but when the action resumes again the group containing the Barrs, Sars, Blackrock, and Charleville will command a lot of attention.
The Barrs are in the driving seat after their heroics against the Rockies in that compelling encounter and their earlier draw with Charleville, but it does not get any easier with Sars providing the opposition in the final group game.
The Rockies will be slightly favoured to overcome Charleville and if that transpires they’ll go through and it would all come down then to the oucome of Sars and the Barrs.
Without a doubt, that encounter looks to be the standout fixture in a few weeks.
The beauty of the whole thing, of course, is that all 12 teams across the three groups have something to aim for on the final day.
And that’s the way it was meant to be when the new format was introduced, a format that has been hugely successful.
A group format gives every team a fair crack of the whip, you get three games to try and ensure you move on to the next stage of the competition and if you fail to do so you cannot really have a complaint.
When the final group games are completed we will be that bit more knowledgeable regarding who might end up in the winner’s enclosure when the old trophy is handed over.
The emphasis now switches to the bigger ball and there will be no rest for the dual player.
That certainly might give a slight edge to the clubs who are mostly hurling concentrated only.
The stakes will be getting higher from here on in and while success has been very hard to come by outside of the county, the old championship on Leeside still retains its intrigue and its uncertainty makes it all the more so.