IT is no great surprise that Cork have struggled to make an impact in intermediate championship hurling for the past two seasons.
They were the dominant force at this level in the last decade, winning All-Ireland titles in 2001, 2003, 2004, 2006 and 2009, and they reached the final again three years ago, going under to Kilkenny. But a change in the rules applying to the intermediate grade in 2011 was always going to militate against Cork's future prospects, with the powers-that-be deciding that the Rebels and Kilkenny would be the only counties restricted to picking players from junior and intermediate clubs.
Ironically, Cork beat Tipperary in their opening game in 2011, but it was a case of the chickens coming home to roost in the Munster semi-final, as they succumbed to a Clare side that had former seniors Niall Gilligan and Tony Carmody playing starring roles. Cork fell at the first hurdle to Tipperary in 2012, and, operating under a similar handicap this year, it's going to be very difficult to challenge for silverware.
Team manager Liam Hayes of Dromina accepts that Cork will be at a disadvantage when they open their campaign against Clare next Sunday, but he says an even bigger concern is the fact that the squad has been decimated by injuries over the past few weeks. On the casuality list at the moment are Fintan O'Leary (Ballinhassig), Michael O'Sullivan (Tracton), Bill Cooper (Youghal), Eamonn Brosnan (Meelin), Colm Spillane (Castlelyons) and Jamie Wall (Kilbrittain), all of whom would have been expected to make the team.
As well as that, Kildorrery's Peter O'Brien and Mikey Walsh, Milford's Eoin Dillon and Castlelyons' Colm Barry will be playing championship football with their clubs on Saturday night, and Hayes is just keeping his fingers crossed that they will all come through unscathed.
"It's the worst possible scenario for us, but maybe over the next few days we will get better news in regard to some of the injured fellas, although it isn't looking too good at this stage," Hayes revealed.
"We are definitely going to be up against it, because Clare will be picking a lot of players who have won two All-Ireland Under 21 medals, and they are bound to be very strong. It's a real pity the way things have gone, because we had been very happy with our preparations, we were absolutely flying in a few challenge games and it's only in the last week or two that the majority of the injuries kicked in.
"I wouldn't say we are complete no-hopers, because, if Peter O'Brien, Mikey Walsh, Eoin Dillon and Colm Barry are available, we should be able to compete well with a team that will also include players with senior experience in Ross Cashman (Kilbrittain), Adrian Mannix (Kilworth) and goalkeeper Martin Coleman (Ballinhassig).
"We will also have Brian and Barry Lawton (Castlemartyr), who are playing senior with UCC in the county championship, and Shane McCarthy of Ballinhassig, who are also up senior, having won the county premier intermediate title last year.
"But we will definitely be without Fintan O'Leary, and if the likes of Michael O'Sullivan, Bill Cooper, Jamie Wall, and Eamonn Brosnan (above) don't make it, we will be lacking a certain amount of fire-power, and it going to be very hard to get a result."