Blackrock should have too much for Ballyhea
County SHC Round 1: Ballyhea v Blackrock, Saturday, April 20, Páirc Uí Rinn 19.30
Few could credibly suggest that Ballyhea have been fortunate when it comes to championship draws in senior hurling in recent years and unfortunately for the Avondhu side 2019 seems to be no exception.
To say that there are easier draws than Blackrock in Cork hurling is an understatement of near epic proportions, but few in black and white will care one jot about who lines up from the opposing dressing room in Páirc Uí Rinn this Saturday night.
Last season Ballyhea lost out to Sarsfields on the opening day by four points, but were comprehensively dismissed from the tournament in the next round when they conceded five goals to Ballymartle. The North Cork side managed to get something going in their relegation playoff fixture with Killeagh to end what to that point had been a tough season in some style.
This weekend's opposition, Blackrock, were magnificent for most of last season with a solid opening day win over Carrigtwohill before seeing off Ballymartle in Round 3. A good win over St Finbarrs followed in the quarter-final, but the city side failed by just two points against Midleton in the semis.
Ballyhea manager Ray Ronan is looking forward to the upcoming championship,m but is clear that getting a competitive side to challenge at this level of competition is really difficult for clubs outside the city.
"Of course, it's tough," said Ronan to The Corkman at the launch of this season's club championships in Páirc Uí Chaoimh last week.
"In a small parish and a small town sometimes it can be tough to get the numbers. Of course, that spreads out through the county so it's not just us. You have to spread your net and do the best you can.
"You are trying to blood young players that probably haven't played at the highest levels of juvenile and asking them to come into senior. You really are waiting to see what happens but still we are really looking forward to it."
Ronan is delighted with the success of the other North Cork clubs in recent years and feels that the competitive nature of the hurling clubs at the top of the county has gone a long way to improving all sides.
"In fairness to Charleville they have been knocking on the door for quite a while and it is now great to see them achieve. There is a great rivalry here with Charleville, Fermoy, ourselves, Kanturk Newtownshandrum and indeed Mallow and that has probably helped some sides over achieve and that has to be good for hurling in the area."
One name that always comes to the fore when talking about Ballyhea is Pa O'Callaghan and like all hurling fans Ronan has a view on the hugely talented attacker.
"Pa is playing away and doing really well. A lot of people would love to see him play for Cork and I am one of them. I think it would bring him on to the next level but it is Pa's choice and people need to respect his decision.
"He is a fantastic athlete, a huge talent, a brilliant guy to work with, a great guy to train for us - we just don't know. Something might change in him, he is only 23, that's all but it is his decision and I respect him for that."
As for this weekend what did Ronan feel about facing a club like Blackrock?
"Well you have to go into it feeling confident and we are that. We are trying to blood a few players. There is a chance we may start with four 18 year olds. It is out of necessity and building for the future.
"You have to build. We have a nice blend of older, a mid range and the young fellows and you will need that going forward. Blackrock are obviously going to be a big ask, but this is championship and we all look forward to championship."
In North Cork Ballyhea are seen as most people's second favourite side with few begrudging the little Avondhu club whatever success they can secure. Blackrock will show no love to the men in black and white stripes and the city side will head to Páirc Uí Rinn intent on making this an Easter weekend to forget for Ballyhea.
Ballyhea will have their work cut out for them if they are to take anything from this one with Blackrock definitely favourites to take the spoils. Blackrock by three.