John Horgan: Premier Senior Hurling race is wide open, any of the teams left could win the county

Erin's Own are already in the semi-finals and it's impossible to call the three quarter-finals with any certainty
John Horgan: Premier Senior Hurling race is wide open, any of the teams left could win the county

Bishopstown's Pearse Morris with a great effort to try to block a shot by Erins Own's James O'Flynn in the Co-op Superstores Cork PSHC at Rathcormac. Picture: Denis Minihane.

They are not quite ‘the magnificent seven’ but the teams that remain in the chase for the Premier Cork County SHC are all there on merit.

Some of the seven had to work harder to extend their championship season, but when the going got tough, the tough got going.

The headline stories at the conclusion of the group stage were the failure of Midleton to defend their title, the failure of Sarsfields to justify the favourites’ tag, and the emergence of the ’Barr’s as a contender after coming out of ‘the group of death’.

The only certainty is that there will be new champions in October and it’s anybody’s guess which team that will be.

There is no favourite at this stage and all the remaining seven teams will believe that they can have a right cut off it.

No team collected the maximum return from the group stage: Erin’s Own and the ’Barr’s fell just short with five points from the six available, with the Caherlag outfit securing the one semi-final place on offer as a result of a superior points difference.

There will be disappointment in the hurling homes of Midleton and Sars at not being able to reach the knockout stage and the latter will reflect on their loss to Blackrock in their opening game when they led by four points going into stoppage time.

Where the Rockies are concerned, erasing that deficit has proved to be the difference between being involved and not being involved.

There were early signs that the champions, Midleton, were not motoring freely. They lost to Douglas in their opener and though improved against Newtownshandrum, their last-gasp loss to Kanturk, when they were hotly fancied, has meant that they will be looking on when the business end of the campaign gets underway.

And mention of Kanturk: They deserve praise for that victory, which steered them clear of the muddy waters of a relegation play-off.

Last week we focused on the Barrs' terrific showing in what was a difficult group and there is no doubt that whatever the future holds in this campaign, the blues from Togher are putting a solid platform in place.

That foundation was built with the victory in the Premier MHC two years ago and a rich dividend is now being yielded.

The one problem that they will have to overcome is that a number of players have a dual mandate, with the club’s footballers heavily involved.

Players not having a break from week to week is always a problem for clubs with quite a few dual players.

But, conversely, success breeds success and confidence levels rise accordingly.

I said from the outset that this championship was open and with the field now reduced to just seven teams, that is still the case.

 Blackrock manager, Louis Mulqueen. Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Blackrock manager, Louis Mulqueen. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

Of the three quarter-finals that are now pencilled in — the Barrs against Douglas, Imokilly against the Rockies, and the Glen against Newtown — no outcome is a foregone conclusion.

All three would have to be considered 50/50 encounters.

Douglas might be disappointed that they could not follow up their wins over Midleton and Kanturk with one against Newtown, which would have given them a clear passage to the semis, but they are still firmly in the mix.

Many are of the opinion that Imokilly are the team to beat and in their outings against MUT and Avondhu, they looked very impressive.

UNTESTED

But those games were done deals long before the end and Imokilly have not been fully tested yet.

That test will surely come against the Rockies and only then will be know more about their prospects.

Since 2014, the Glen have contested six finals, winning two and losing four and that is remarkable consistency.

They lost the last three finals, but they can trouble any opposition and there is a very good blend of youth and experience in the team. Simon Kennefick was outstanding against Na Piarsaigh, with a return of five points, while young gun Eoin O’Leary followed up with a hat-trick.

The side has a wealth of experience back-boning it throughout the field and despite the final losses of recent years, they can have a big say again.

First up in the knockout stage for them is Newtown, who surprised many by emerging from the group that contained the county champions, but again they have the ability to make a telling statement when they are at their best.

Some people might say that the standard overall does not compare to years long past, but it is still a championship that has the capacity to generate huge interest.

All three groups went down to the wire, with all 12 participants having something to play for.

That is the way it was meant to be and, from that perspective, the group format continues to be a resounding success.

And that applies to all grades.

The bar will be raised much higher the weekend after next when seven will be reduced to four.

When the time comes, we’ll try to select our four... well, three, as Erin’s Own are already through.

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