NEIGHBOURS Newcestown and Bandon experienced that empty feeling of relegation in the top two grades in football over the weekend.
It was the same for St Vincent’s in the Bon Secours county PIFC, agonisingly losing by a point to Naomh Aban, the Ballyvourney’s modest return of 0-8 just about preserving their status for another season.
For the west Cork duo, there was a familiar theme running through their stories, the severe difficulty in dual players trying to juggle both hurling and football in such a condensed time.
Both had long-running injury crises to contend with, one of the problems, particularly for the smaller rural club, which impacted the pair quite considerably.
Newcestown won the old intermediate championship in 2010, overcoming Clyda Rovers by 0-10 to 0-9 in the middle of three successive county final defeats by the Mourne Abbey club. Since then, they more than acquitted themselves among the elite of Cork football clubs, always difficult to beat and never offering less than 100% honesty in their endeavour.
At the same time, Newcestown, with practically the same group of players, were hurling in the second grade, a competition as fierce and almost as demanding as PSHC and were also struggling.
This is the first full year of the so-called split season between inter-county and club and it has raised a number of issues for those operating the dual mandate, no matter what the level.
The leagues have become more structured with promotion and relegation, every club getting nine games before the start of the championship, where there are a minimum of three games and possibly a few added on, as well.
For argument’s sake, let’s say a club plays 12 times in football during the season and you could say that’s busy enough schedule, but for a dual player, it could be double that amount, which leads to obvious problems with injuries, burn out and insufficient recovery time.
Clubs with restricted numbers face clear problems, like Newcestown, whose team for the first football game against Nemo Rangers on a dreary afternoon in Brinny back in July wasn’t the same for the relegation play-off tie with Éire Óg, who won by 2-10 to 0-14.
There were five personnel changes, no full-back James Kelleher, wing-back Colm Dinneen, scorer of the goal against Nemo, centre-forward Conor O’Neill or inside players, Niall Kelly and Seamus O’Sullivan.
The Ovens club are also a case in point because even with a thriving set-up, Éire Óg also had to persevere with a relegation match in PIHC, dispatching Youghal the previous week with a lot of dual players in their side.
Bandon were the 2016 intermediate champions and operated in SAFC since, but next year it’s level three and PIFC following their 5-11 to 1-8 loss to Newmarket.
Their hurlers are also in that grade, emerging from their group this summer before losing narrowly to Ballinhassig in the quarter-finals.
They play Whitechurch on Saturday for the right to meet Brian Dillons in the decider and this just eight days out from their PSFC semi-final with Ballincollig.
There’s a pattern developing of players now having to decide on one code over the other for the simple reason that it’s too hazardous playing both.
Post-season think-tanks will attempt to tease it out further and maybe clubs, if they’ve got the numbers, may decide on restricting dual players to a maximum number of games, league and championship, in any given year.
As for who replaces Newcestown in 2023, the void will be filled by either St Michael’s, O’Donovan Rossa, Knocknagree and Clyda, who form a semi-final double at Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Saturday week.
It’s an impressive representation of the city and county, starting with Michael’s-Skibbereen at 5pm and followed by the other game at 7pm.
Skibb have huge tradition and a hunger to rejoin Castlehaven and Clonakilty at the top table while the Mahon club are the form side. Knocknagree have strong pedigree as have Clyda.