EXPECT Nemo Rangers and Castlehaven to progress to the semi-finals of the Bon Secours county PSFC at Páirc Uí Chaoimh tomorrow, but Ballincollig-Carbery Rangers is impossible to call at headquarters on Sunday.
That’s the general view going into a bumper weekend of football with crunch make-or-break games in all four grades as those already qualified for the last four await their next opponents.
From the outset, Nemo and the Haven were roundly tipped to again make the business end of the championship though the city club’s unexpected early departure last season broke a long sequence.
The pair were even matched up in the group stage along with last season’s beaten county finalists Clonakilty and Newcestown, a team never to admit defeat.
Centenary celebrating Nemo, captained this year by Luke Connolly, carried their impressive league form into the championship starting with a 2-10 to 1-5 win over Newcestown in horrible conditions, when Connolly and Mark Cronin supplied the goals.
They were involved in a thriller against the Haven, Nemo surging 2-9 to 1-6 clear at the break following a second-minute penalty from Connolly and a rare Kevin Fulignati goal with Jack Cahalane replying spectacularly for the west Cork side.
A change in approach by the Haven resulted in a much different second half, batches of five and four unanswered points whittling the lead until Mark Collins restored parity at 1-14 to 2-11 with four minutes on the clock.
Then, Brian Hurley edged them in front only for Connolly (who else?) struck for a magical winning goal in stoppage time, 3-13 to 1-16, Nemo just crawling over the line.
Qualification prior to the last group game against Clon eased the pressure though and a low-scoring 0-8 to 0-7 victory maintained their 100% record.
Carbery Rangers were in a similar position after narrow wins over Carrigaline and Eire Og respectively guaranteed a play-off slot before taking on the Barrs, who won by 2-13 to 0-10.
The Rosscarbery club are in transition and happy to be contending, offering the likes of young centre-back Jack Kevane a taste of life at the higher echelons of the club game.
James Fitzpatrick and John Hayes are normally held in reserve though Alan Jennings continues to give great service while the O’Rourkes, John and Peadar, are noted scorers.
Yet, Nemo appear to hold all the aces and there’s a hunger sated by last year’s disappointment with the wide-open expanse of Páirc Uí Chaoimh to their liking, also.
A couple of hours later at 7pm, it’s the Haven against newly promoted Mallow, who won their opening couple of games to advance prior to losing to Douglas.
Despite going down to Nemo, the Haven will have learned much and with the Cahalanes returning to the fold after guiding the ’Barr’s to the hurling semis, there’ll be an air of confidence in the camp.
Mallow’s hot-and-cold display against Douglas puzzled manager Keith Moynihan, who may be tempted to ring the changes after his substitutions turned a 2-10 to 1-2 score line at the three-quarter mark into 2-11 to 2-10 at close of play.
The triple introduction of James Loughrey, Bill Myers and Sean Hayes helped turn matters around as did Peadar Hennessy and Eoghan Barry’s call to arms.
Mallow are a physically imposing side with Cork pair Shane Merritt and Mattie Taylor in the half-back line, Darragh Moynihan and Eoin Stanton at midfield and captain Ryan Harkin and former Cork U20 Sean McDonnell in the inside line.
It may be closer than people think, but the Haven have enough experience and nous to complete the job.
As for Ballincollig-Carbery, Sunday at 5pm? Even Solomon’s wisdom couldn’t figure this one out.
The Village were limping along after losing to Mallow and drawing with Douglas before going up a number of levels in the 4-14 rout of Valleys to edge Douglas on scoring difference.
Cian Dorgan, Sean Kiely and Darren Murphy supplied 3-9 between them and Robert Noonan the other goal.
Carbery have serious momentum with five wins to their credit and not as impacted by club games as tends to be the case with representative teams.
The division impressed against UCC and particularly Duhallow, winning by 0-16 to 0-15 with a rejuvenated Brian O’Driscoll again very consistent at midfield.