John Horgan: Divisions could have a big say yet in Cork Premier SHC

Imokilly are loaded with potential while Avondhu have made real strides this season
John Horgan: Divisions could have a big say yet in Cork Premier SHC

Seamus Harnedy is Imokilly's best-known forward but their squad is loaded with talent. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

THE club teams in the Premier Cork County SHC are taking a bit of a breather at the moment, all of them having played two of their three games in the group stage of the competition.

Some have fared better than others, a few have all but guaranteed their spot in the knockout stages but nothing will be definite until they all have completed their three games of the initial segment of the process.

For now, though, the attention switches to the knockout stage of the divisional/colleges section with four teams putting their hands up tonight and tomorrow night.

First into the fray tonight at Páirc Uí Rinn are Imokilly and MUT while it’s the turn of UCC and Avondhu tomorrow night at Mourneabbey.

In a perfect world, all four would be very highly regarded as far as securing the ultimate prize is concerned.

However, that is far from being the case and theirs is never a perfect world and when discussing the prospects of divisional and colleges teams, a number of factors have to be taken into account.

Some players might prefer to be club concentrated only whilst the clubs themselves might be very reluctant to release them, all the more so if they are in contention for qualification for the next stage of their own process.

There would be concern about a key player getting injured whilst lining out for the divisional or colleges team.

Avondhu's Brian O'Reilly on the attack against Duhallow in the Co-Op Superstores PSHC at Glantane. Picture: John Tarrant
Avondhu's Brian O'Reilly on the attack against Duhallow in the Co-Op Superstores PSHC at Glantane. Picture: John Tarrant

Some club bosses are reluctant to release players in that regard.

An added problem for the college representatives is that some star players might be away travelling for a few months.

Collective preparation is always a problem too and in some instances, the first championship encounter might be the first time they come together.

UCC have served Cork hurling wonderfully well through the ages and some of the county’s greatest hurlers have worn the famed college colours.

MUT, formerly Cork IT, has played a big part too in the developmental stage of a player’s career but when it comes to landing the big prize in the Cork SHC it just hasn’t happened for both.

One has to go back all of 52 years since UCC last lifted the old trophy while Cork IT have never managed to win it.

Back in 2011 they were odds on favourites to do it but an inspired Carrigtwohill unit denied them at the final hurdle on a never to be forgotten Sunday down the Marina.

Of the four teams that are in action over the next few nights, Imokilly are probably the one with the spotlight on them the most.

By all accounts, new team boss Denis Ring has put in a big effort with the players at his disposal on the training ground and in a few challenge games and it was just a few very short years ago when the East Corkmen did the three-in-a-row.

In fact, the current squad of players are being played up as being title contenders again without a championship ball being struck in anger.

Of course, we’ll know a bit more about them after tonight’s encounter with MUT.

CALIBRE

When you look at the calibre of player available to the management, Ciaran Joyce, Jack Barry, Daire O’Leary, Colm Barry, Ciarán Joyce, Mike Kelly, Barry and Brian Lawton, Liam O’Shea, Diarmuid Healy, John Cronin, Seamie Harnedy, Josh Beausang and Bud Hartnett among others, you realise that if all are available, Imokilly could have something to say again.

Unfortunately, Bill Cooper won’t be togging out because of injury and he’s a considerabe absentee, as he is for his club, Youghal.

No doubt, the management of the four teams involved tonight and tomorrow night will strive to get their best players out on the field but in some cases that might be easier said than done.

Time was, of course, that divisional teams ruled the roost in the old championship, winning it four times in the ’90s, Carbery in 1994, Avondhu in 1996 and Imokilly in 1997 and 1998, the latter leading to Mark Landers captaining Cork to All-Ireland glory a year later.

Despite losing players from Killeagh, Cloyne, Fr O’Neill’s and Carrigtwohill who have all graduated to a higher stage, Imokilly are the one division that have remained strong, mainly because of strong men like Fergal Condon at the helm and the hard yards being put in from the outset of the year with challenge games being played against opposition from other counties.

Avondhu have lost players from Newtownshandrum, Fermoy and Mallow who also stepped up grades but throughout all the divisions there are plenty of players from junior to premier intermediate level all capable of making an impact on the big stagel.

Some divisions have struggled to field at all in some years and it is a pity that has been the case.

There are some people who might be against the participation of college and divisional teams in the championship at all but that would be denying a lot of very good players from the lower grades the opportunity of having a crack at the biggest prize of all.

The reality is that some clubs will not be able to get up to Premier Senior Hurling level so it’s good for players from junior and intermediate clubs to be handed the chance to play with their division if they so desire.

We have learned a fair bit about the clubs over the past few weeks and who might be involved at the business end and we’ll learn more as time goes on.

But for now it’s time for us to learn a bit about the colleges and divisional sides as they embark on their make-or-break missions.

Two games certainly to look forward to over the coming nights.

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