Thursday 18 October 2018

Blackrock set their sights on a third title

Kevin Murray’s move to St Finbarrs will be a severe blow to Muskerry’s chances in this year’s SHC but the Mid-Cork side should still have enough quality to get past Duhallow in
Kevin Murray’s move to St Finbarrs will be a severe blow to Muskerry’s chances in this year’s SHC but the Mid-Cork side should still have enough quality to get past Duhallow in

In lowering the colours of St Catherines, Avondhu, UCC, Castlelyons and Imokilly during their march to the top in 2001, the Rockies showed that they are a ver...

In lowering the colours of St Catherine’s, Avondhu, UCC, Castlelyons and Imokilly during their march to the top in 2001, the Rockies showed that they are a very formidable outfit, and they confirmed the widely-held view that their shock elimination by Midleton the previous year was nothing other than a flash-in-the-pan.

For all that, Blackrock will be taking nothing for granted as they attempt to complete a first two-in-a-row for the club since 1979, and there are a few teams that have the potential to provide a major stumbling block to the holders’ ambitions.

Not numbered among them, however, are Midleton and Douglas, who will cross swords in the only preliminary fixture, with the losers taking on Blackrock in the first round proper.

No doubt, Blackrock would relish the opportunity to settle the score with Midleton, and they could be granted it, bearing in mind that the East-Cork Magpies looked a very mediocre side last year when they were well-beaten by both Ballyhea and Carrigdhoun.

Douglas didn’t exactly the world on fire either of course, and, following a decisive first-round victory over a Bishopstown side that has since regraded to intermediate ranks, they too had their limitations glaringly exposed by Carrigdhoun.

But considering that Douglas were operating in the top flight for the first time last year, one feels that they are bound to have learned from the experience, and that they possess more potential for improvement than Midleton.

For that reason, they get a tentative vote to shade the issue against Midleton, and become the first team to book a place in the last sixteen.

Blackrock will almost certainly be joining them there, and one would also have to fancy 2OOO championship Newtownshandrum, St Finbarr’s and Na Piarsaigh to advance to the third round at the expense of Sarsfields, St Catherine’s and Ballincollig respectively.

Not that Newtownshandrum are likely to have things all their own way against Sars, who bounced back from a first round defeat by Erins Own last year to account for CIT and Ballyhea before going under rather tamely to Imokilly in the quarter-final.

Likewise, Newtown lost their opening game against the Barrs, and found Imokilly a bit too hot to handle in the semi-final, but they did enough in between, when thrashing Seandun and Glen Rovers, and impressively coming through a stiff test from Carrigdhoun, to suggest that they should have the measure of Sars at the moment.

After beating Newtown, the Barrs were ousted in a thrilling second-round clash by Na Piarsaigh, who later fell to unfancied Castlelyons in a replay.

Of those two city teams, however, the Barrs could be capable of making the greater impact this year, especially since they have acquired the services of Kevin Murray, who has been one of the top forwards on the county championship scene for several seasons now.

It will be recalled that the Barrs, denied a place in the decider when Blackrock completed a dramatic late rally with an equalising goal deep in injury-time, lost no honour when succumbing in a semi-final replay in ‘99, and their youthful side was expected to challenge strongly for the title in the ensuing years.

That they have been a major disappointment in the meantime is beyond dispute, but Kevin Murray’s recruitment might just be the boost they require to put their best foot forward again, and I believe they could be one of the main pretenders to the throne in the championship ahead.

In any event, they shouldn’t be unduly troubled by St Catherine’s, who lost three championship games last year to Glen Rovers, Blackrock and UCC, while Na Piarsaigh, especially if Seán Óg Ó hÁilpín is fit to return after injury, are unlikely to slip up against a Ballincollig side that shipped a couple of heavy defeats at the hands Castlelyons and Avondhu last year.

Castlelyons did well to qualify to the semi-final in 2001, but they rode their luck more than once en route, and they could find it difficult to make a similar impact this season.

My guess is that they will be hard-pressed to come through their first test against 2000 runners-up Erins Own, who, despite a sub-standard showing against UCC in the third round last year, could go well again, and, in light of their tremendous run of success at minor level over the past three seasons, would appear to have laid solid foundations for the future.

Following the boost of a county under-21 triumph last year, Glen Rovers will be hoping for an upsurge in their fortunes at senior level, and they certainly won’t be intimidated by the task of tackling Ballyhea first time out.

But perhaps the most intriguing of the first-round games is the East-Cork derby clash between Cloyne and last year’s intermediate kingpins, Killeagh.

It’s a very difficult one to call, but I have a slight fancy for Killeagh to make a winning debut in the top flight, leaving Cloyne to face a tricky backdoor assignment against South-East divisional side Carrigdhoun, who showed no little potential last year.

Killeagh’s graduation to senior ranks will severely weaken Imokilly’s hand, and last year’s defeated finalists could find the going much tougher when they renew rivalry with either Newtown or Sars in the second round.

Similarly, the loss of Kevin Murray will be a severe blow to Muskerry, although the Mid-Cork men, semi-finalists in 2000 and caught on the hop by Castlelyons in the third round last year, will be fancied to progress in their opening game against Duhallow.

Imokilly, for their part, should still be strong enough to make it to the third round also, but perhaps the divisional team with the most potential is Avondhu.

They provided Blackrock with was arguably their toughest test last year, and if they have their act together for the first outing against the losers of the Newtown-Sars match, they could go a long way.

UCC will be expected to surmount their initial obstacle provided by perennial no-hopers CIT, and other teams that could enjoy an extended championship campaign this year are Carbery, due to meet the losers of the Na Piarsaigh/Ballincollig clash, Ballyhea, who, assuming that they won’t beat the Glen, should be able to progress at the second attempt when they face up to Seandun, and Midleton, who, if they lose to both Douglas and Blackrock, will be given a third chance to advance against either the Barrs or St Catherine’s.

So the 16 teams that I suspect will be going into the hat for the third round draw are Blackrock, Douglas, Newtownshandrum, Na Piarsaigh, Glen Rovers,