BY JOHNNY CAROLAN
EVEN though this is just the fourth year of the reformatted Cork county hurling and football championships, we have already seen more than a few examples of how strong momentum can be – in both directions.
When the group-stage system was voted into being at the end of 2019, Knocknagree were still celebrating their county IFC win. The Duhallow side were the first Premier IFC champions after the change and last year they reached the senior A decider, losing out to St Michael’s. Kilshannig won the JAFC in 2019 and the IAFC last year, while in hurling Ballygiblin, Lisgoold and Castlemartyr all won two consecutive county titles.
However, the opposite is also true. The 2020 senior A football championship featured city side St Nicholas – three consecutive relegations left them a premier junior side for 2023 and a loss to Urhan a fortnight ago meant they failed to qualify from their group.
Bandon reached the 2020 senior A hurling quarter-finals but were relegated from the second tier the following year and dropped from premier intermediate to intermediate A with defeat to Carrigaline last week. The Lilywhites were following Youghal, demoted in 2022, and the East Cork club needed to beat Douglas this year to avoid falling into the premier junior ranks.
No club has a divine right to a place in a particular grade and, if proof were ever needed of that, the seismic shock of Glen Rovers’ relegation from the top tier of hurling after 97 years proved it. All of which is to say that a club one letter apart from the Blackpool outfit – Ilen Rovers – will need to fight for their lives in Sunday’s Bon Secours Hospital Cork SAFC relegation play-off against Fermoy in Ahiohill (3pm).
Having had to negotiate the play-off at premier senior level in 2020, beating Bishopstown, Ilen fell through the trap door with defeat to Carrigaline the following year. Their first senior A game in 2022 was against Clyda Rovers and ended in a one-point defeat – while Clyda went on to claim an automatic semi-final spot, Ilen then fell to O’Donovan Rossa and had to beat Newmarket in their last group game to avoid finishing bottom of their group.
Unfortunately for the Baltimore/Church Cross side, that game represented the temporary halting of a slide rather than a clear turning point – with three defeats in this year’s campaign, the Newmarket match represents their only win in 12 group-stage games since the beginning of 2020.
There will be some consolation taken from the performance against Dohenys in Drimoleague a fortnight ago – the final score was 3-13 to 1-15 for the Dunmanway side, with Ilen having led by a point with 13 minutes left. However, that fixture does have the asterisk of Dohenys being already qualified before a ball was kicked.
Dan Mac Eoin kicked eight points that day for Ilen while Seán O’Donovan scored 1-3. These are players capable of doing damage and there is no shortage of footballing talent throughout the team.
Confidence is of course the great intangible and it’s never plentiful in a side facing a relegation but it must be borne in mind that the opposition are in the same boat.