Eastern connection: Nine of Cork's 20 hurling semi-finalists from Imokilly

Strength of the Eastern division is reflected in the make-up of Co-Op Superstores Hurling Championship knockout stages
Eastern connection: Nine of Cork's 20 hurling semi-finalists from Imokilly

Jamie Stack, Castlemartyr, about to pick up the sliotar, watched by Rob O'Shea, Carrigaline in the Co-Op Superstores PIHC. Picture: Dan Linehan

ALL EYES locally this weekend are on the bumper programme of Co-Op Superstores Hurling Championship semi-finals across five grades. 

East Cork clubs hold a very strong interest in proceedings with nine of the 20 teams from the Imokilly barony.

First in action are Lisgoold, whose star continues to rise rapidly and they now face their third county semi-final in recent times when they engage Cloughduv on Friday evening in Riverstown at Intermediate A level.

"Cloughduv are championship favourites in many people's eyes and it's going to be a huge challenge," comments Mossie O'Connell, the Lisgoold team manager. 

Cloughduv ran Castlemarty very close last year in the semi-final and maybe felt they should have won that match. Now you see how far Castlemartyr have gone. 

"We actually played Clougduv in an early season challenge match when conditions were absolutely horrendous. It finished in a draw but you could not read into that game. 

"It's going to be a titanic struggle being honest and I don't think there will be a puck of the ball between us."

ON TRACK

The second semi-final in that competition has Dungourney and Sarsfield's second team meeting Carrigtwohill on Saturday afternoon. A late James Aherne goal against Midleton kept Dungourney on track and they now face a Sars group that took the direct route to the semi-final. 

The teams met last year in the group stages in Lisgoold when a late Sars score saw them claim an injury-time win., The Riverstown outfit subsequently went on to reach the final, before losing to Castlemartyr.

As for Castlemartyr, they have kicked on again in their new surroundings at Premier Intermediate. It's been a fairytale few years but now a massive test awaits against a Castlelyons team who are still hurting after back-to-back final defeats.

Castlemartyr manager Seamus Lawton knows his team have had to dig deep in recent weeks as they overcame seasoned outfits Ballinhassig and then Carrigaline in quick succession.

"It's our third campaign now in a short time for this group of players and they have learnt as they progressed. The bit of extra experience is helping us along the way. At the time, Russell Rovers last year was the biggest game in our club's history in the Lower Intermediate Final. 

"Now we have moved on two grades. It's unique the way it has happened, so we have got to enjoy it."

Castleyons lost narrowly last year late on to Courcey Rovers in the final and Ciarán McGann's charges have now taken the shortest route to the penultimate round. They have had a four-week break and will be hoping to have a few returning stars ready for action come Saturday evening.

Immediately following that game at Páirc Uí Chaoimh is the Fr O'Neill's-Bride Rovers Senior A rematch. Bride have been boosted with the influx of a number of young players, including All-Ireland winning minors Adam Walsh and Cillian Tobin, and scored heavily in their wins over both Carrigtwohill and Cloyne. 

Cloyne's Ashley Walsh and Bride Rovers' Ronan O'Connell go high for the sliotar. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Cloyne's Ashley Walsh and Bride Rovers' Ronan O'Connell go high for the sliotar. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

They will be very determined to reverse last year's semi-final defeat but face an O'Neill's side who are longtime championship favourites and now have Ger Millerick and Declan Dalton fully fit for selection after injuries dented their last campaign.

The final Saturday game involving eastern interest is the Russell Rovers v Ballybgiblin clash in the semi-final of the Premier Junior tier at Ballynoe. These two recent county champions at junior level both followed a similar pathway to Munster success before both suffering the heartbreak of All-Ireland final defeat.

On Sunday the two premier senior semi-finals take centre stage with Erin's Own having had four weeks to contemplate what lies ahead. Martin Bowen's charges have been excellent so far this season, but now another big hour is required against Blackrock who ousted Imokily in that dramatic penalty shootout. The Caherlag men were last finalists in 2016, whilst 33 times champions Blackrock won the 2020 decider.

Blackrock and Erin's Own lost to eventual champions Midleton in the knockout stages last season. Sunday's victors will be within one hour of trying to emulate the Magpies' county success.

Kieran Murphy, Erin's Own, collecting his 96FM/C103 GAA Sports Star award at the Rochestown Park Hotel. Picture: Tony O’Connell.
Kieran Murphy, Erin's Own, collecting his 96FM/C103 GAA Sports Star award at the Rochestown Park Hotel. Picture: Tony O’Connell.

Meanwhile, Erin's Own veteran star Kieran Murphy was recently honoured with the 96FM/C103 GAA Sports Star award in association with Rochestown Park Hotel in recognition of his performances so far in his club's three championship games. 'Hero' is one of the highly experienced players that have backboned Erin's Own in their championship campaigns across three decades now.

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