TEN years on from relegation from the top tier of Cork hurling, it has been the case of so close yet so far for Ballinhassig ever since at Premier Intermediate level.
Will 2023 be different? When the Blues lost a cracking relegation play-off final to St Finbarr’s in 2013 by just a single point, the expectation was that they would return within a couple of years with many of the players still in their prime.
Ballinhassig had already suffered demotion from the then senior grade in 2011 when they lost to Bishopstown by a point in the relegation play-off decider, only to bounce back twelve months later winning the PIHC title.
Since that gut-wrenching loss to the Barrs in 2013, it has taken time for the Carrigdhoun team to recover.
There has been a lot of transition in the squad, but one thing they have remained is competitive.
In their first season back down in the Premier Intermediate grade, the team in blue and white were fancied by many to make an immediate return to the top tier, but it wasn’t to be, as two goals from Cloyne was enough to beat Ballinhassig in the quarter-final on a scoreline of 2-12 to 0-12. Despite the best efforts of Fintan O’Leary who hit five points that day.
Ballinhassig went one better in 2015, buoyed by an impressive 4-17 to 1-12 win over Castlelyons in the quarter-final, the Blues were tipped to defeat their neighbours Valley Rovers in the semi-final, but 1-8 from Chris O’Leary helped Valley’s to a 1-14 to 0-15 victory. There was natural disappointment in Ballinhassig after the defeat, a game they could have easily won.
Cloyne once again dashed the dreams of the team from the South-East division with a 1-17 to 1-14 win in the quarter-final in 2016. The last four was reached again in 2017, only for Kanturk to edge out the Blues in a 2-14 to 1-14 win. The business end of the season was the destination in 2018, only for their rivals Valley Rovers to once again prove too strong, beating them at the quarter-final stage, another season without the desired outcome for the team in blue and white.
2019 was the first season since relegation from the higher grade where the club didn’t reach the latter stages of the championship. Defeats against two Muskerry teams in the shape of Blarney and Inniscarra ended their hopes for silverware before the Covid-19 pandemic brought everything to a halt in early 2020.
When the games did eventually return it was a new championship structure in Cork, a round-robin format, and three points from three games wasn’t enough for Ballinhassig to secure a knock-out place. Despite qualifying from the group a year later, the Carrigdhoun team suffered a one-point loss to Kilworth in round 3 of the championship 2-12 to 0-17, despite the best efforts of Conor Desmond, who finished up with 10 points, seven frees, one 65.
Progress from the group was accomplished last year, which included a big win over Ballincollig, the semi-final hurdle was once again unable to be jumped. The last four encounter against Inniscarra was similar to many games gone before.
The game was there to be won and with the Blues leading 1-14 to 0-15 with minutes remaining, a fortuitous goal scored by Inniscarra swung the pendulum in Scarra’s favour, as they won 1-18 to 1-15. Another close game gone begging, it really has been a case of so close yet so far for the team in blue and white.
Can they change the script?
Castlemartyr, Watergrasshill and Kilworth join Hassig in Group C
And with the team under the management of Seán Guiheen from Na Piarsaigh, there is quiet confidence within the club former Courceys coach Guiheen and his new management team, which includes Eoin Galvin from Ballincollig, who is a shrewd operator, will get that extra out of the team to get them over the line.
A decade on from their hearts being broken, and so many near misses since, 2023 might be the year of redemption for Ballinhassig.