THE recent news that MTU will not be entering teams in both the hurling and football Cork Premier Senior Championships for 2023 is a Rubicon that Cork club GAA is unlikely to ever return from.
The announcement brought to an end an almost 30-year involvement in the Cork county championships for the College, with most of that being as Cork Institute of Technology, of course, with their biggest day being their appearance in the 2011 hurling final where they lost to Carrigtwohill by a solitary point.
This decision to drop out was made on the back of the difficulties experienced by MTU teams in fielding teams for the 2022 county championships. The hurlers only had twenty players available for selection when going down 7-22 to 2-11 against Imokilly back in August, while their footballers were beaten by double scores by Duhallow, on a scoreline of 2-18 to 1-9 in their one championship outing.
MTU are not the only team to announce they will not be taking their place in the 2023 championship either, as Seandún, again in both codes, and Carrigdhoun in football, have also opted out. One senses more of the divisions might take a similar approach in the years ahead.
Realistically divisions and colleges are going to stop fielding teams if they feel they do not have a realistic chance of being competitive at the business end of the championships going forward, and if their own clubs do not show enough interest.
Looking at the current state of the colleges and divisions UCC would probably see themselves as contenders in both hurling and football given their history and the number of quality players that pass through the college.
However, in reality, Carbery and Duhallow in football and Imokilly in hurling are the only other truly competitive representational sides, although Avondhu did make a decent fist of it in 2022.
The north Cork division recorded victories over Carbery, Muskerry, Duhallow and UCC, before bowing out to a very strong Imokilly side in the Divisional/Colleges section decider.
While they came up short it was Avondhu’s best showing for years and gave the likes of Mark Keane, Colin O’Brien, Jack Twomey and Stephen Condon a chance to perform at the highest level of Cork club hurling, something that is not possible with their own junior clubs.
That is the obvious benefit of the divisional systems, and why it was designed in the first place, but it only works if a) all those intermediate and junior clubs combined can provide enough quality players to be competitive, and b) if there is sufficient interest amongst these clubs to combine their resources.
That last point can be the biggest problem of all. Staying with the Avondhu example, Ballygiblin supplied Fionn Herlihy, Mark Keane and Joseph O’Sullivan to the cause this year, but if the likes of Shane Beston, Darragh Flynn and Cathail O’Mahony also threw their lot in, Avondhu would be much stronger again. Conversely, if Ballygiblin’s players decided to just completely focus with the club the division would soon crumble.
The demise, or at least the reduction, of the divisions is certainly sad to see given their contribution to Cork GAA down the decades. But it is understandable. There is a sense that less is more now though.
25 teams took part in the 2007 Cork Senior Hurling Championship. In hindsight, everyone acknowledges that this was an overly bulky and bloated championship structure, with too many teams playing at too high a grade. In contrast, the 2022 championship comprised 20 teams, made up of 12 clubs, six divisions and the two colleges. This will now drop to 18 next year. It will be no surprise to see that number reduce further in a few years.
To compare, the Kerry senior football championship has 16 teams in it at present, with eight senior clubs and eight divisional sides making up that list. In Kilkenny, their hurling championship is made up an even more exclusive group, with just 12 clubs fighting it out to win their hurling crown.
The loss of the divisions from Cork’s Premier Senior Championships ultimately means that some players will not get to partake in the championship. That ultimately is the sacrifice for having a more streamlined, high-quality championship. It is something we better get used to, as it certainly is not going to go the other way.