Castlelyons keen to be back at the business end of Premier IHC

Group toppers - beaten finalists in 2020 and 2021 - are in the semi-finals of this year's competition
Castlelyons keen to be back at the business end of Premier IHC

Castlelyons' Peter Roche gets his shot in despite the attentions of David Kirwan of Éire Óg. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

THE even nature of the Co-op SuperStores Cork Premier IHC can best be illustrated by the fact that none of the 12 sides involved managed to garner maximum points across the group stages.

Indeed, of the dozen, only Youghal lost all of their matches while Watergrasshill can count themselves hugely unlucky to miss out on the knockout stages despite going unbeaten – draws against Éire Óg, Castlelyons and Carrigaline left them in third place in Group A. With scoring difference of zero, they were just pipped by their final-day opponents Carrigaline, whose scoring difference was plus one.

Topping that section with two wins and a draw were Castlelyons. The East Cork club were the defeated finalists in 2020 against Blarney and last year against Castlelyons and now they are just a game away from another decider as the 1-15 to 1-12 victory over Éire Óg sent them directly to the semi-finals along with Inniscarra.

Castlelyons started brilliantly, moving into a 0-9 to 0-1 lead – with Alan Fenton in great scoring form – by the time Éire Óg had Lar Considine sent off, but by half-time the lead was down three, 0-11 to 1-5.

Though James Kearney struck for a goal to ease the Imokilly side seven clear again early in the second half, they were never able to fully shake off their Ovens opponents. Ultimately, they got the job done, which was the key consideration in the mind of manager Ciarán McGann.

“We were saying it before the match,” he said, “it was a case that, if we won it by a point, we’d have taken it.

“The group stages are just so sticky, especially this year. So many teams are even across the groups, anything could happen.

“Going into the last day, any one of the four teams from our group could have gone through and, thankfully, we’re one of them.

“We had a fantastic start. When the man was sent off, it was we who seemed to go into a lull period rather than driving on, so that’s something we’ll have to work on on the training pitch the next night, because that can’t happen again.

“In saying that, we started the second half really well. We had a bit of difficulty in putting them away, but we’re taking the positives – down the home stretch, we always had those two or three points in it and we’ll certainly take it.”

Given that they have been so close to winning it in each of the two years since the change in format, it’s hardly surprising that Castlelyons are seen as a barometer for everyone else to measure themselves against. It means they are considered a scalp and so there are no easy games.

Adding to the challenge is the fact that key men like Colm Barry, Ronan O’Regan, Ronan Fenton and Anthony Spillane are unavailable at the moment, but the longer gap until the semi-finals could be a help.

“Every year is different,” McGann said.

“We played 18 players in the county final last year – on Sunday, eight of those were unavailable to us, due to travel, injury, et cetera.

“But, look, we didn’t use it as an excuse. Other guys got the jersey, they drove on, we’re here again now, gone to a semi now so we’ll absolutely take it.

“There are a few injured guys there and we’ll be doing a lot of physio work with them over the next few weeks and we’d be hopeful that some of them will see game-time again.

“We’ll work on that. We want headaches to be picking the team for the semi-final and hopefully we’ll have them.”

Filling the time in between won’t be too much of a problem, especially with a big match to look forward to.

“With the four-week gap, we’ll certainly look for one challenge game,” McGann said.

“Maybe two, but definitely look for one. The message will be that a lot of teams thought we were dead and buried and we were gone but any team that’s going to beat us will have to earn it.

“We’re here and we’re ready to battle for the championship. We’re in the semi-final now and we’ll try to drive on again.”

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