Cork face Waterford in league opener
“With the smell of freshly cut grass, it’s great to be hurling and we are delighted to be playing at this time of the year.”
The words of Cork manager Kieran Kingston on Tuesday night in Páirc Uí Rinn as the hurlers were getting ready for another session with Donal O’Grady in the background imparting his knowledge.
Kieran was thrilled that Donal agreed to get involved. “I approached him and when he agreed, I was delighted, his grá for hurling and for Cork hurling is well known and having him involved will benefit everyone - the players and myself. He will be a big addition as we get ready for a tough season ahead.”
On the players that are no longer part of the panel, Kieran said “while there’s a lot of experience gone, there is a lot of very good players coming in and they have been going well in training, and they have won Munster medals in various grades so they will be additions to what we have already.”
It will be a different league, there could be no final but that’s not a concern. “Well there might be but whatever, we have five tough games coming up in a short period of time, so our objective will be to get game time into as many players as possible and develop a game plan that we are all comfortable with.”
The fitness levels of the players was “brilliant” when they did report back for training which pleased Kieran. “We were like everyone else on Zoom and to the lads’ credit, they worked hard individually but being together as a group will bring us on that bit more, and make up for last year, and unlike last year we are all starting from the same place.”
Kieran did confirm that a few players, among them Eoin Cadogan, Bill Cooper and Colm Spillane are carrying slight niggles and they will be accessed during the week before they pick the team for Sunday.
As for Waterford who beat Cork twice last year, “they are a good team and Liam Cahill will look to build on last year, but we will be ready and really looking forward to it”.
The composition of the Cork team will be interesting, especially in defence with so many of last year’s defenders not around and doubts about Cadogan and Spillane will test them.
Patrick Collins will be the goalkeeper, while Sean O’Donoghue, Robert Downey, Niall O’Leary, Robert Downey, Mark Coleman, Tim O’Mahoney, Damien Cahalane, Niall Cashman could all feature but the exact positioning will give an indication of the managements thinking for the season ahead.
Darragh Fitzgibbon will be in midfield and the task here is to find the ideal partner for the Charleville player who is a key component for Cork.
There are plenty of options in attack apart from the obvious in Patrick Horgan, Seamus Harnedy and Alan Cadogan, while Luke Meade, Alan Connolly, Declan Dalton, Shane Kingston, Robbie O’Flynn and Jack O’Connor are all contenders for the starting 15.
Waterford had an extended season and while they did suffer defeat in the two big finals, they showed enough throughout the campaign that they are a force to be reckoned with.
They do have a number of key players out through injury, including Pauric Mahoney and Tadgh De Burca who got injured in the All-Ireland Final and might not play this year, and he is a huge loss.
Conor Prunty will captain the team, Jamie Barron is the vice-captain; add in Austin Gleeson, Jack Prendergast, Jake Dillon and the ever reliable Stephen Bennett and Liam Cahill will be picking from a settled side and confident that they can maintain their winning run over Cork.
Form and fitness will have no bearing on the outcome, and the bench might actually shape the game.
Predicting winners this early in the season is fraught, but we will go for Cork, who might need the win more.
Cork v Waterford is on Sunday at Páirc Uí Chaoimh at 3.45pm. The game is live on C103.
County championship draws
It will be 21/22 August for football and a week later 28/29 for hurling before we see county championship action but the draws that took place last Thursday night threw up some interesting groups.
Of course given that all grades, with just one exception have only 12 clubs, a number of repeat pairings were inevitable, in fact that will be a regular occurrence under the current format.
One group in Premier Intermediate Football, St Vincents, Aghada, Castletownbere and Newmarket is exactly the same as last year, in Premier Senior Football, Nemo Rangers, Valley Rovers and Douglas are grouped together again as are Ilen Rovers, Castlehaven and Newcestown, while in hurling Killeagh, Newcestown and Cloyne will once again renew rivalry.
There are also repeat pairings in other grades, Midleton v Sarsfields, Carrigtwohill v Na Piarsaigh and in football O’Donovan Rossa v Ballingeary.
There are a couple of intriguing encounters on the cards.
Senior hurling champions Blackrock find themselves in the toughest group, with St Finbarr’s who will surely be better than last year, semi-finalists Erin’s Own and senior A champions Charleville.
The opening games will shape this group - ‘Barrs v Charleville and Erin’s Own v ‘Rockie’s with the winners on the right road and a tougher one for the losers.
Similarly Douglas v Glen Rovers and Sars v Midleton, while in Senior A, the fortunes of Blarney will be watched with interest as will that of Fr O’Neill’s - beaten finalist last year.
In football it’s a bit more complicated with all the finals yet to be played and as consequence a number of pairings are yet to be finalised.
The big one is the meeting of Nemo Rangers and Castlehaven, that’s down for the weekend of 6/8 August in the final and within weeks they start this year’s championship. Momentum will be key.
It was also good to hear that adult training will resume on Monday next and the games look like starting in early June, a truncated league cup format to start the season, with clubs avoiding teams that they are due to play in the championship.
The dates have also been released for the outstanding county finals from last year, with some dependent on the involvement of Cork teams in the All-Ireland Championship.
2020 finals announced
On 19 June in Senior A Football, it’s Eire Og v Mallow.
On 10/11 July in Lower Intermediate Hurling, Castlemartyr face Russell Rovers.
Over the August weekend, three finals will be played. In Premier Intermediate Football, it’s Knocknagree v Kanturk, in Intermediate A Football, it's Rockchapel v Mitchelstown and in Intermediate A Hurling, it’s Eire Og v Aghabullogue.
It is also hoped to complete the Junior A Championship in July but the countywide Junior B and C along with the Under 21 hurling and football championships will not be played owing to time constraints.
As with everything else, the 96FM/C103 GAA Sports Star awards in association with the Rochestown Park Hotel, were put on hold last year, but delighted to confirm that they will return in the coming weeks, albeit in a slightly different format for the first few months.
In the coming weeks, three monthly winners will be named, and they will come from the latter end of last year when a number of championship finals were played.
Once the season is up and running, normal service will, where we can once again honour the best in Cork GAA, camogie and ladies football.
A special word to the management of the Rochestown Park Hotel and in particular Tom Tobin who are fully supportive of the awards and have been for the last 16 years and are thrilled that they are back on the agenda.
A date for the overall award banquet will be announced in due course, but for now watch this space as we reveal the first winners for 2020/2021.
Well that was a dramatic and dare I say it a damaging one for the Camogie Association with their fixture plans blowing up in their face.
The fact that they opted against the split season, in direct opposition to the move by the GAA and Ladies Football, and ignoring the 82 per cent of inter-county players who favoured the same format as last year, made the move even more baffling.
A bit of a climb down on Saturday was helpful, but compounded by the revelation that another large majority were prepared to boycott the Littlewoods National League is a clear indication of the depth of feelings the players have for the move.
The Camogie Association will conduct their own poll this week which will determine their next move, but the league is due to start on Saturday week, so a quick resolution is needed.
It is still the strangest of seasons and it would make sense to fall in line with the GAA and Ladies Football and give clarity to players, who are the most important part in this process - it’s the least they deserve.
There is a growing view that the three associations should all be under the one umbrella, the decision by the Camogie Association, on a five to three vote at management level I understand, has done little to advance this cause.
Finally tough break for Cork footballers Killian O’Hanlon and Aiden Browne who picked up season ending injuries in training recently, and apart from missing the inter-county season they will be big losses for their respective clubs Kilshannig and Newmarket. Also to Teddy McCarthy that legend of Cork and Sars GAA currently making great progress after surgery recently.