John Horgan: Time for Cork GAA teams to switch focus to Munster

John Horgan: Time for Cork GAA teams to switch focus to Munster

Ben Cunningham of St Finbarr's celebrates at the final whistle after the Cork County Senior Club Hurling Championship Final match between Blackrock and St Finbarr's at Páirc Ui Chaoimh in Cork. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

THE vast majority of the GAA playing fields are falling silent now and will remain so for the next couple of months.

The various county championships have nearly all been concluded by now and for those fortunate enough to have ended the season with a trophy, it’s a time for happy reflection.

However, for quite a few of them the show goes on with the focus now switching to the provincial club championships.

Now well over 50 years in existence, they have proved to be a resounding success and adding that title to the county that has already been secured is looked upon as a huge accomplishment, coming out on top after defeating the best of the rest in the province.

And it is certainly no easy task, the games are played on a much softer sod in a lot of cases, one team has home advantage in their own backyard and are driven on by a huge support base.

This season’s Munster Senior Hhurling club championship will feature five teams who have all ended up in the winner’s enclosure in the past, a few of them very recently and a few more who have not been in that situation for a very long time.

This season’s five participants are our own St Finbarr’s, Clare’s Ballyea, Limerick’s Na Piarsaigh, Tipperary’s Kilruane McDonaghs and the reigning champions and All-Ireland holders, Ballygunner from Waterford.

 A hurley goes flying in this goal mouth clash with Alan Connolly, Blackrock and St. Finbarr’s players Damian Cahalane and Ben O'Connor in their Co-Op Superstores Premier senior hurling championship final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Picture Dan Linehan
A hurley goes flying in this goal mouth clash with Alan Connolly, Blackrock and St. Finbarr’s players Damian Cahalane and Ben O'Connor in their Co-Op Superstores Premier senior hurling championship final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Picture Dan Linehan

Ballygunner, Ballyea and Na Piarsaigh have been victorious in the recent past while you have to go back to 1980 since the ‘Barrs were at the top of the tree.

Last Sunday in Semple Stadium, Kilruane McDonaghs won their first Tipp title in 37 years, defeating a far more fancied Kildangan after a replay.

However, they have not had much time for celebrations as they enter the provincial arena next Sunday in a preliminary quarter-final against the country’s best club team last season, Ballygunner.

They certainly pulled the short straw on that score but for them their year’s ambition has already been achieved, winning back the cherished Tipp title after being without for so long.

They now find themselves in a situation of having really nothing to lose and pretty much everything to gain, very much in bonus country in their extended season.

In fact, you could say something similar where all the participants are concerned after their initial objective was realised.

For the Cork champions, St Finbarr’s, they got a bit fortunate insofar as they avoided a quarter-final assignment and went straight into a semi-final collision with Clare champions Ballyea.

That in itself is a big ask and the situation is made more difficult by the fact that their opponents have home advantage in Cusack Park.

But it is what it is and have no doubt, Ger Cunningham will have his players fully focused for this potentially intriguing game.

Ballyea won this title in 2016 and quite a few of that side are still its backbone and, in their ranks, they have one of the country’s best hurlers, Tony Kelly who picked up another All-Star last weekend.

How the Barrs will try to curb his influence will be hugely interesting but be certain sure they won’t be found wanting.

 Joseph O'Sullivan, Ballygiblin, Player of the Match.
Joseph O'Sullivan, Ballygiblin, Player of the Match.

Tradition can be an ally in this very competitive championship and the Barrs certainly have plenty of that, being four times winners in the past even if you have to go back a long way since their last success.

Those teams contained some of the greatest hurlers Cork has ever produced and the current crop are now starting off on their journey to follow in their illustrious footsteps.

And now that the club is concentrating fully on hurling after the loss of the footballers, they will be giving this clash with the Banner county reps a right lash.

And let’s be honest about it, Cork club hurling could do with a protracted run from is champions.

Our recent record is desperately poor, as poor as it gets and only for the emergence of Newtownshandrum in the earlier part of the new millennium when they were successful on three occasions, 2003, 2005 and 2009, it would be a lot poorer.

Prior to that, Midleton were winners in 1983 and 1987.

As a whole since the early days, Cork’s return in this championship has been paltry and even reaching a final has been a bridge too far for a lot of our participants in recent times.

Midleton were the county’s representatives last season but fared very poorly, being well beaten by Kilmallock in their opener.

The very successful Sarsfields teams of 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014 failed to make the breakthrough too when they entered the Munster club arena and there have been others too.

That’s all in stark contrast to what was the case in the now distant past when this championship was almost the sole preserve of Cork teams, mainly the Rockies, ‘Barrs and Glen.

Between them they amassed 12 titles between the years 1964 to 1980, the Rockies victorious on five occasions, the ‘Barrs four and the Glen three.

That was a phenomenal return by any standards but everything changes.

This Munster club championship is desperately difficult to win and whilst Ballygunner are probably the slight fancy again this time, it would be fair to suggest that all five participants will fancy their chances if they are 100% committed to the cause.

The ‘Barrs and Kilruane are probably less experienced than the others because they are first time entrants in a very long time.

But that’s not a reason to diminish their chances because both sides contain some very fine hurlers who have proven their worth already.

There is certainly much to look forward to in the coming weeks in this club championship, character, resilience and a fierce will to win will be all required to end up on the winner’s rostrum and when that comes to pass it’s a massive boost for the game in the county that they are representing.

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