Knockout phase underway
The completion of the group phase in the Co-Op Superstores Hurling Championships has cleared the way for, what many will say, the real championship to get underway.
Hopefully we will get some lively games as up to now it’s been pretty mundane, not helped by the lack of supporters, creating a surreal atmosphere for the players.
The number of one-sided games is a worry and the standard in others has, in my view, been poor.
The group that generated the most excitement was without doubt the Midleton, Sars, Douglas and Ballyhea group, a couple of lively contests there, but in general they have been few and far between.
Of course, for the clubs that have advanced, that will not trouble them and for now their sole focus will be on continuing their season.
Two of the three games are local derbies which always add that extra bit of spice to these clashes.
The first is the East Cork encounter between Erin’s Own and Sarsfields in Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Saturday night.
Sars came through their group unbeaten, and in impressive fashion at that, and will certainly start as favourites.
But caution is the word as Erin’s Own will relish this challenge.
The one trait the Caherlag side has shown is their refusal to accept defeat. They have shown that in all their games, most notably last time out against Newtownshandrum when a late goal gave them a quarter-final place at the expense of the North Cork side.
Robbie O’Flynn, the Murphys and the Carroll brothers along with experienced goalkeeper Shay Bowen will anchor their team in a bid to oust their neighbours.
Sars showed how effective they can be by bagging goals at crucial times in their games.
In James Sweeney, Jack O’Connor and Luke Hackett they have effective forwards while elsewhere Conor O’Sullivan and Daniel Kearney, particularly the latter, remain their pivotal players.
Matches between neighbours generally take on a life of their own, but there’s a better-looking balance to Sars and that might just give them an edge to secure a semi-final meeting with Glen Rovers.
Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Sunday is also the venue for the meeting of southside neighbours Blackrock and Douglas, which has the makings of a fascinating clash.
The latter will enter this one in buoyant mood helped by their excellent win over Midleton in the last round. They showed in that game what they are capable of and have a powerful attacking unit, with Alan Cadogan, Brian Turnbull and Shane Kingston all making important scoring contributions.
At the back Douglas really fronted up, and there was a marked improvement on previous outings when they leaked goals.
Eoin Cadogan was brilliant, and with Cillian O’Donovan, Stephen Moylan and Mark Harrington lending invaluable support, they were worthy winners.
Blackrock eased to the top spot in their group and look genuine championship contenders.
They were finalists in 2017 but are now showing the promise they have displayed in recent years, with a formidable look to their team.
Gary Norberg, John and Niall Cashman, Ciaran Cormack, Daniel Meany and the return of Michael O’Halloran will boost them further, for a game they will need little motivation for.
Two sides laced with quality players should make for a cracking contest, and with both impressing in their most recent outings, it’s a hard one to call.
I have a slight fancy for Douglas, especially as they look to have the more potent forwards on view.
The third quarter-final pits UCC against Na Piarsaigh and both enter this game on the back of contrasting results in their last outing.
UCC ended Imokilly’s reign as champions with a confident and committed display and have excellent players dotted all over the field.
Mark Coleman, Shane Barrett, Shane Conway, Eoghan Clifford, David Lowney, Paddy O’Loughlin and Brian Verling all showed their class in that win.
The concern is that many of their squad will be in action with their clubs before they arrive in Páirc Uí Rinn on Sunday night.
Na Piarsaigh were demolished by old rivals Glen Rovers in their final group game, scoring just 0-12 with Evan Sheehan getting 0-9, so it goes without saying a huge improvement is needed if they are to progress.
They do have good players though, such as Shane Forde, Daire Connery (although an injury concern), Anthony Dennehy, Craig Hannifin and Christopher Joyce.
However unless there is considerable improvement, and a better scoring return, they will not win and it’s UCC who will make the semi-final.
Both of these games are on Sunday at 2pm. Coachford is the venue for the meeting of Kanturk and Bandon and both clubs have been in dual action in recent weeks and that might have an impact.
The odds favour Kanturk especially with the likes of Anthony Nash, Lorcan McLoughlin and Aidan Walsh in good form right now.
Bride Rovers and Newcestown meet in Blarney at 4pm, and while the latter were playing football last week, the manner in which this club manages its dual commitments is a credit to them. On that basis, it’s hard to back against them.
Two intriguing encounters here not least the all Mid-Cork clash of Ballincollig and Blarney in Páirc Uí Rinn.
Mark Colemen, Joe Jordan and Shane Barrett lead the latter’s challenge and they look better equipped to progress.
Ballyanly is the venue for the meeting of Watergrasshill and Courcey Rovers, who produced a stunning display in the last round to ensure their season continued.
If they are as good again they will be hard to beat.
Intermediate and Lower Intermediate
Cloughduv, with the Verling brothers Brian and Mark in scoring form and Eoghan Clifford solid in defence, should be too strong for Sars who have a couple of injury concerns for this game.
The meeting of Aghabullogue and Mayfield looks a bit harder to call.
Both sides have impressed in their games to date and the city lads might just have a slight edge.
Tracton will be expected to overcome the challenge of Kilbrittain.
Russell Rovers, who bagged seven goals in their last outing with Brian Hartnett and Josh Beausang bang on form, are fancied in their clash with Milford.
The place where no club wants to be with a lot at stake for all participants.
In Premier Senior, it’s Bishopstown vs Ballyhea and the exertions in terms of injuries has really taken its toll on the city lads who were a bit unlucky in all their games to date.
They could have won at least two but that luck might change in this one and that could get them over the line.
Killeagh have endured a torrid time in Senior A while Kilworth, like Bishopstown, could have picked up a couple of wins, they should survive this test.
Blackrock, in their first year at Premier Intermediate, might be making a quick return unless they produce a top class hour against Valley Rovers.
The intermediate grade is a round robin series and first up it’s Glen Rovers against Meelin and here the Blackpool lads should prevail.
In Lower Intermediate it’s hard to see Ballymartle survive although Barryroe will need to be much better than they were in conceding seven goals to Russell Rovers last time out.
As ever, Castle Road will be a hive of activity with two intermediate semi-finals.
On Saturday at 2pm it’s Enniskeane and Fr O’Neill’s with the West Cork ladies fancied and at 5pm Ballyhea, last year’s junior champions, will be tested by a strong Aghabullogue side.
On Sunday the focus switches to the senior grade. Now that the Inniscarra player has tested negative for Covid-19, their quarter-final game with Glen Rovers will go ahead at 2pm.
This will be followed at 5pm by the first of the semi-finals with Douglas facing Courcey Rovers and this should be a cracker with quality players on both sides.
The class of Julia White, Jess Kavanagh and the Mackey sisters, Catriona and Pamela, could be the difference in getting Douglas over the line.
The big game here is the senior final between Mourneabbey and West Cork Ladies on Saturday in CIT at 5pm. When they met in the group stages they produced a cracker and since then the champions have been strengthened by the return of a number of their injured players. The desire to retain their crown and enter the Munster series as holders rather than nominees, as West Cork can’t participate, is enough incentive for them to prevail.
In the Senior ‘B’ Final on Friday in Nemo Rangers at 8pm it’s a meeting of two clubs that once graced the top grade, Inch Rovers and St Vals, with the East Cork side slightly fancied.