THERE was some margin for error in the Premier Cork County SHC group stages.
Glen Rovers were one of the teams that put some pressure on themselves by losing to Erin’s Own in their opener but victories over Bishopstown and Na Piarsaigh have ensured that their championship season was extended.
They are first into the arena this Friday night alongside Newtownshandrum in the opening game of the three quarter-finals followed by Douglas and the Barrs and the Rockies against Imokilly in a double-header at Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Sunday.
Now that the knockout stage has been reached, it’s do or die.
While the championship to date has been very interesting, the group format again proving its worth, the expectation levels will rise with just six games left, the three quarters, two semis and the final before new champions will be crowned.
These three games all carry plenty of potential and the new Cork senior management will be keeping a very close eye on the proceedings. For those with an ambition to wear the red jersey, now is the time to put themselves into the frame, and show something that might catch the eye of Pat Ryan and his selectors.
The first job of a management team is to try and spot something that others might not and it’s in the cut and thrust of knockout championship hurling that they’ll find that out. When the chips are down a good hurler will come to the fore.
In the group stage, there have been some strong individual performances, the established players showing up well, but, overall, there has been no clear evidence that a player will emerge for the Cork senior squad.
Some of the Barrs younger guns like Ethan Twomey, Ben O’Connor, Ben Cunningham, and Cian Walsh have performed very well, but they are still raw.
No matter how strong a squad has been in one championship season, every inter-county manager seeks to embellish it for the next one.
Have no doubt, despite Limerick’s excellence again this season, you can be certain that John Kiely, Paul Kinnerk, and the rest will want more players to emerge in the current championship on Shannonside.
That’s the way it has to be, strengthening and developing all the time, making sure that the players in possession of the jersey are constantly being challenged by others.
New Cork boss Pat Ryan had tremendous success with the All-Ireland U20 squads and before him, in Tipperary, it was a similar story with the new boss up there, Liam Cahill. Same with Derek Lyng, the new Kilkenny boss.
Here on Leeside, Ryan will be hoping to integrate a few more players from those winning teams into the senior squad, Eoin Downey, Cormac O’Brien, Padraig Power and Jack Cahalane, among the candidates.
It’s easier said than done, of course, and the step up to compete with the class of Limerick is vast.
One player who has done that very successfully, fitting into the plan seamlessly is Ciarán Joyce from Castltemartyr, but a lot more are required.
The depth of a squad is hugely important, Limerick have proved that year in, year out, going back to the All-Ireland semi-final against Cork in 2018. It’s right to say that no other county has that, players able to come in and make an immediate impact, putting a few extra scores on the board that make all the difference.
Of course, the search for fresh material applies in all the grades, Senior A and Premier Intermediate in particular.
Everything is now in readiness for a few big weeks across all the grades in Cork and, while we are repeating ourselves here, the only certainty is the uncertainty.
And that’s the story in every grade.
On Friday night at headquarters, the Glen will be the choice of most observers to get the better of Newtown, but that’s certainly no foregone conclusion. Newtown were really not expected to emerge from the group that also contained, Douglas, Kanturk, and Midleton.
But they have arrived at the knockout stage now on merit, as a result of an outstanding win over Douglas and it could be said that they are in bonus territory now.
They don’t see it that way at all, team boss Shane Naughton has got a great response from the players and this could be a very tricky assignment for the Glen.
Quite a few people are talking up Imokilly again and rightly so but before they face the Rockies next Sunday, five or six of their squad will be involved with Castlemartyr 24 hours earlier against Carrigaline in the PIHC.
That has to be factored in and while some would say it’s unfair, that has always been the way with divisional teams.
Back in the day when divisional teams dominated the championship in the 1990s, Carbery and Avondhu and Imokilly twice, it was a similar situation and it was overcome.
Dungourney and Lisgoold have key Imokilly players involved on Friday night and the priority for all with the dual mandate is that they avoid injury which might prevent their participation in the big senior clash on the Sunday.