The last two winners of the Co-op SuperStores Cork Premier IHC will meet tomorrow night in Páirc Uí Rinn (7pm) with a SAHC quarter-final spot up for grabs.
With Fr O’Neills having secured top spot in Group B with wins over Blarney and Courcey Rovers, that pair are in a tie for second after wins over Killeagh. Courceys have the edge in scoring-difference meaning a draw on the Boreenmanna Road would be sufficient for them to progress, but otherwise, this is a knockout game.
Tadhg O’Sullivan, Seán Twomey, Olan Crowley and Jerry O’Neill are all influential for the Ballinspittle/Ballinadee club, who came up after winning the third-tier title last year, but in Mark Coleman, Shane Barrett and Pádraig Power, their predecessors, the 2020 PIHC winners Blarney, have some match-winners of their own.
The East Cork derby between O’Neills and Killeagh takes place in Youghal. Until recently, Killeagh were a senior club with their opponents from Ballymacoda/Ladysbridge operating in the third-tier IHC and then premier intermediate, but the tables have turned.
O’Neills have reached the two finals in this grade since the change in championship format, while Killeagh have yet to advance from the group stage since being placed in the grade upon its creation at the end of 2019 (though they were very unlucky to be pipped by Newcestown last year).
They won’t be progressing this time, either, but will be searching for a result to avoid the relegation play-off. They will hope for inspiration from Eoghan Keniry, Andrew and Gary Leahy and Andy Walsh in that quest but against that is the fact that O’Neills – with Declan Dalton and Billy Dunne in rampant form – will be looking to secure one of the two automatic semi-final spots.
In Group A, Fermoy have done a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of securing a knockout spot, but it is not yet fully nailed down. The North Cork side had nine different scorers in their last outing, a seven-point win over Cloyne, with Ben Twomey and Pádraig de Róiste showing up well.
However, there is just a nine-point gap in scoring difference between themselves and Mallow, their opponents in Castletownroche, meaning that a Mallow victory of five points or more could make things dicey for Fermoy if Newcestown were to record a big win against Cloyne. Daniel Sheehan has been in immense goalscoring form for Mallow, with Paul Lyons another key attacking threat, while goalkeeper Podge Buckley is another key man.
Though Cloyne have lost to Mallow and Fermoy, their scoring difference is only minus-nine and so, if Fermoy were to beat Mallow, qualification would not be beyond the East Cork side with a win over Newcestown in Church Road. Brian Walsh, Brian O’Shea and Conor Cahill give them a cutting edge but Newcestown made the semi-finals last year – unlucky to lose to Kanturk after extra time – and have strong performers like Luke and Jack Meade, Edmund Kenneally and David Buckley in their ranks.
Group C is very finely poised – while Ballymartle are unable to qualify after registering two defeats so far, it’s very tight otherwise with Bride Rovers and Ballyhea level on three points at the top and Carrigtwohill on two points.
Riverstown is the venue as Bride take on Ballyhea tomorrow evening – while the south-east side can’t progress, they will be looking to stay away from relegation worries, but their Rathcormac/Bartlemy opponents know that a win will guarantee them qualification and, most likely, top spot.
Carrigtwohill bounced back from that result to beat Ballymartle, with Seán Rohan, Liam Gosnell and Seán Walsh shining. They will face Ballyhea in Ballyanly, with the winners advancing though the Avondhu side have the advantage of being a point ahead and knowing a draw would do.
Pa O’Callaghan and Eugene O’Leary are likely to wield influence for the men in black and white, who were relegated from premier senior in 2020 and failed to qualify for the knockouts last year.