Tricky Munster assignments for Chaven and Newtown on Sunday
Gaelic round-up with Cúl BáireThurles is the venue for Newtowns meeting with Tipperary kingpins Toomevara in the provincial hurling semi-final, while Castlehaven must also travel to enemy territory for their first round clash in football with Kerry champions An Ghaeltacht at Killarney.
It will be only the second time for Newtown to represent the Rebel County in the provincial series, and their previous bid for glory was brought to a premature end when they went under by the minimum of margins to Waterford’s Mount Sion in 2000.
Again Newtown were forced to concede home advantage in that match which was played at Walsh Park, and they were handicapped as well by the fact that the game went ahead just a week after they had beaten Erins Own to collect the county senior hurling title for the first time.
It was always going to be very difficult for Newtown to come back down to earth and gear themselves up for a major assault on the Munster club title so soon after their historic triumph in the county final.
In the circumstances, they did well to get so close to making a winning debut against Mount Sion three years ago.
But Newtown have had a few weeks to savour the sweetness of their second county final success, achieved in such convincing style against hotly-fancied Blackrock.
And it can be taken for granted that they will be fully focused on the task ahead this time as they attempt to lower the colours of Toomevara, and become only the third Cork club to qualify for a Munster final since 1991.
Midleton finished second best to Cashel King Cormac’s that year, and Blackrock were likewise forced to fill the runners-up slot when they contested the provincial decider in 2001.
So, one has to go back as far as 1987, when Midleton beat Cappawhite in the final, to discover the last time that the Cork hurling champions went all the way in Munster.
It’s a far cry from the heady days in the seventies when Blackrock, St Finbarr’s and Glen Rovers reaped a rich harvest for Cork, bringing ten consecutive titles to Leeside between 1971 and 1980.
Newtown are obviously determined to give it their best shot this year, judging from the comments of team coach Ger Cunningham, and many of the players, in the immediate aftermath of their county final victory.
And the confident manner in which Newtown dispatched a Blackrock side that was chasing a fourth county title in five seasons made it abundantly clear that the team has matured significantly since they initially tested the water in the Munster club championship in 2000.
But they will get nothing soft from a Toomevara side that showed considerable potential in 2001 when they were very unlucky to lose by just a point to eventual Munster champions Ballygunner in a semi-final replay.
Backboned by inter-county players Tommy Dunne, Benny Dunne and Paddy O’Brien, Toomevara clocked up their fifth Tipperary county title in six seasons when accounting for Thurles Sarsfields in the final this year.
And they recovered from a slow start to finish with ten points to spare over Kimoyley of Kerry — who pushed Blackrock all the way in the last two championships — in the first round in Munster two weeks ago.
All of which suggests that Toomevara are entitled to start as favourites on Sunday.
But Newtown can be relied upon to provide them with a very stern test, and if such key players as Ben O’Connor, Pat Mulcahy and Jerry O’Connor are firing on all cylinders, the North-Cork men will surely be in with every chance of taking the spoils.
The ’Haven won their first title in 1989, beating St Senan’s of Clare in the decider, and they came up trumps again in the ‘94 and ‘97 finals at the expense of Clonmel Commercials and Fethard respectively.
It means that they have yet so suffer a defeat in the Munster club championship, and that tradition will weigh heavily in their favour when they throw down the gauntlet to An Ghaeltacth on Sunday.
But the Haven team, forced to field without Niall Cahalane who was under suspension, for the ‘97 final included just four players — Denny Cahalane, Fra Cahalane, Alan Crowley and Colin Crowley — who are likely to be in the starting line-up against An Ghaeltacht.
And the Kerry champions will enjoy a definite edge in terms of experience at this level in that the vast majority of the side played in the first round clash with Nemo Rangers at Páirc Uí Chaoimh two years ago.
It will be recalled that Nemo were put to the pin of their collar to withstand a strong challenge from An Ghaeltacht in that match which finished 0-9 to 0-8 in favour of the defending champions.
And, with Nemo no longer in the equation having had their reign as Cork, Munster and All-Ireland champions terminated by Na Piarsaigh last July, An Ghaeltacht — who took the top prize in the Kingdom for the second time in three years when beating Laune Rangers two weeks ago — will no doubt feel that they have a golden opportunity to garner even greater glory.
With players of the calibre of the Ó Sé brothers, Darragh, Marc and Tomás, Aodán MacGearailt, Dara Ó Cinnéide and Seán MacSitigh, who won a Cork county senior medal with UCC in 1999, on board, An Ghaeltacht are obviously a team worthy of the utmost respect.
But the desire to keep their unblemished, and unique, record in Munster intact will serve as a huge spur to Castlehaven in what promises to be a very close encounter.
And, providing such as Colin and Alan Crowley, Bernie and Liam Collins, Dermot Hurley, Alan Sheehy, Ray Cahalane and Stephen Connolly can reproduce the sort of form that was instrumental in paving the way for the club’s first county title win since 1994, they might be able to shade the issue.