Pictured at the launch of the 2023 Dairygold Co-Op Cork County Hurling Championships at Páirc Uí Chaoimh were players Liam Ryan, Inniscarra; Joe Millerick, Fr O’Neills; Billy Hennessy, St Finbarrs; Shane Beston, Ballygiblin and Dylan Healy, Dungourney. Photo: Brian Lougheed

Hurling championships begin with a bang

After the excitement of last weekend’s football games, now it’s the hurlers’ turn to begin their respective championship campaigns, and for dual clubs the task of mixing and keeping players fresh and focused comes into play.

6 games in the space of 7 weeks brings its own challenges and one or two defeats could derail your season in a very short period of time, that is the drawback I see in the current system.

There is no doubt that the schedule brings a degree of certainty around the season for players, but were a hurling club to lose its first two games in the space of 7 days, their championship ambitions are to all intents and purposes over. It’s a long year finished in such a short time and very little to play for.

That however is a discussion for another day, let’s look at what lies ahead over the coming days.

Premier Senior Hurling

Group A

This has the makings of a fascinating group with 3 recent winners, Glen Rovers, Blackrock and Midleton are joined by Bishopstown, who will certainly have their hands full in all 3 games.

Age-old rivals Glen and Blackrock start the weekend on Friday in Páirc Uí Rinn at 7.30pm and how often has it been stressed that the first game could shape your season.

Glen won Division 2 of the league comfortably, while Blackrock were poor in the D1 decider against Sars; they were short a few players with injuries, but form goes out the window when these sides meet.

Alan Connolly’s return is a boost, Tadgh Deasy, Stephen Murphy, John and Niall Cashman along with Robbie Cotter, although an injury doubt, and Michael O’Halloran remain key players for the Rockies.

Patrick Horgan was as effective as ever in the league games on his return from Cork duty as were Robert and Eoin Downey - an important trio for the Blackpool club.

Eoin O’Leary and Simon Kennefick should feature in attack, while long serving Brian Moylan is still delivering top class displays. A lot at stake and a hard one to call, but a nod to Glen to win.

Midleton will be down a few players for their meeting with Bishopstown in Páirc Uí Rinn on Saturday at 3pm, among them goalkeeper Brion Saunderson and Sean O’Leary Hayes, but with Conor Lehane, Tommy O’Connell and Luke Farrell still impressing, they will be fancied to and should win.

Group B

This has a nice look to it as well, with Fr O’Neill’s making their debut at this level and showing good form in the build up to their opener with Charleville in Rathcormac on Saturday at 7.30pm - a repeat of the Senior A Final in 2020, a Covid decider with very limited attendance.

These are two very evenly matched sides with Deccie Dalton, Ger Millerick, Billy Dunne and Jason Hankard for the East Cork side, while no surprise that Darragh Fitzgibbon will be central to Charleville’s challenge but it all points to a winning start in the top grade for O’Neill’s, who had a big win over Glen Rovers in a challenge game last week.

Erin’s Own are generally written off at the start of every campaign but they continue to defy the odds and usually make the knockout stage; remember last year they beat Glen Rovers in round 1 and Blackrock the year before.

This year they will be without one of their best players Robbie O’Flynn, his brother James is also missing on his travels for the entire championship and he’s a huge loss so when they meet Douglas in Páirc Uí Rinn on Saturday at 5pm, it will be a major shock if they win, but they have defied the odds in the past, but not this time you feel.

Group C

Like Group A, this is top heavy with big hitters; champions St Finbarr’s, D1 league winners Sarsfields, Newtonwshandrum and Kanturk - picking two from this quartet is not easy.

At the outset of last season, ‘Barr’s were not considered as title contenders but as the campaign evolved so did they and they were worthy champions and they will do all they can to retain the title, a feat last achieved by Glen Rovers in 2015 and 2016.

Newtown will test them in Mourneabbey on Saturday at 5pm, with Tim O’Mahoney and co determined to prove that their semi-final display against them last year was not a true reflection of their quality.

Ben O’Connor will be a loss to Ger Cunningham’s side but with Brian Hayes, Ben Cunningham, William Buckley and the Cahalane brothers all brimming with confidence as champions, they should start with a win. Sars head to Fermoy on Saturday at 3pm for a meeting with Kanturk confident but cautious against a side that improved as the league wore on, boosted by the return of key players from injury.

The Walshes and Mc Loughlins continue to anchor their challenge but the dual demands will hinder them, as for Sars with a full compliment including Jack O’Connor to choose from they look like likely winners.

Senior A

Again a championship laced with heavy hitters all determined to reach the top grade none more so then Na Piarsaigh, still coming to terms with their relegation last season and this very proud northside club will be keen to make a winning start in Group A.

They open against Bride Rovers on Friday night in Riverstown at 8pm and this is not an easy one to start with.

The Roche brothers Eoin and Brian saw time with Cork during both league and championship and were semi-finalists last season, Na Piarsaigh with a high powered selection committee won 4 games in Division 1 of the league will look to Ross O’Sullivan, Patrick O’Rourke, Kelvin Forde and Keith Buckley and that might give them a slight edge.

Killeagh and Inniscarra are the other 2 sides in this group and the Muskerry side coming up as Premier Intermediate Champions with Sean O’Donoghue a key player for them should win this one in Caherlag on Friday at 7.30pm.

In Group B, Courcey Rovers under new management will hope that Sean Twomey is in good form for a tricky looking encounter with Ballyhea whom they beat narrowly last when they renew rivalry in Mallow on Saturday at 5pm.

Newcestown - always very competitive - meet a Blarney side who even without Mark Coleman can still call on Padraig Power and Shane Barrett, while Luke Meade will be a key player for the West Cork side who suffered a narrow defeat in football at the weekend. Ovens onSaturday at 7.30pm for this one, a nod to Newcestown to shade it.

There’s a North Cork/East Cork look to Group C with Fermoy meeting a Cloyne side in Youghal on Saturday at 7.30pm. That is in the midst of a huge transition with several big players no longer involved. They are hard to beat but Fermoy fared well in D2 of the league, 4 wins, and that will give them the confidence to win this one.

Carrigtwohill were in a very competitive D1 of the league while Mallow were relegated from D2, so the odds favour a Carrig win here, they meet in Church Road Sunday at 2pm.

Premier Intermediate

This championship has produced some cracking games in the last number of years, just look at last season’s final, and there has been many and hopefully the same again in the coming weeks.

Castlelyons and Bandon in Group A will see the former hoping to make up for a few near misses in recent years. Noel Furlong is guiding their fortunes this year and with talented Niall O’Leary in good shape they will be favourite to win this one on Sunday at 2pm in Ballyanly.

Ballincollig had an excellent league losing to Glen Rovers in the D2 Final and with Cork Under 20 players Tadgh O’Connell and James Dwyer on board will be favourites to beat Dungourney who are making their debut at this level in Cobh at 7.30pm on Saturday.

3 teams from the Carrigdhoun Division are in Group B and Ballymartle v Carrigaline is an intriguing looking local derby with the latter hoping to maintain their good showing in the league. If they can, they should win but as always with local rivalry form goes out the window this will attract a big crowd to Shanbally on Saturday at 1pm.

Valley Rovers and Éire Óg meet in Ballymaw on Saturday at 3pm; both had football last weekend and that will impact, a hesitant nod to Éire Óg.

Group C looks like the toughest of all to call, and the first fixture is an indication of that. It’s Castlemarytr v Ballinhassig on Sunday in Ballygarvan, with the O’Sullivan brothers Adam and Darragh along with Patrick and Ger Collins in the Ballinhassig side with one of Cork’s best in the Munster championship Ciaran Joyce leading the challenge for the East Cork side who were winners when they met last year, en route to that narrow final loss to Inniscarra. They might just do it again.

Watergrasshill and Kilworth meet in Rathcormac also on Sunday and this could very well end up as a draw - both games have 2pm starts.

Intermediate A

Youghal v Lisgoold - verdict Youghal

Aghada v Aghabullogue - verdict Aghabullogue

Sars v Kildorrery - verdict Sars

Mayfield v Blackrock - verdict Mayfield

Cloughduv v Midleton - verdict Cloughduv

Ballygiblin v Douglas - verdict Ballygiblin

Premier Junior

Tracton v Argideen Rangers - verdict Tracton

Glen Rovers v Erin’s Own - verdict Glen Rovers

Kilbrittain v Milford - verdict Kilbrittain

Ballygarvan v Barryroe - verdict Ballygarvan

Meelin v Russell Rovers - verdict Russell Rovers

St Finbarr’s v St Catherines - verdict St Catherines