WITH just one SFC first-round tie outstanding – the meeting of Carbery Rangers and Ilen Rovers at Moneyvollahane on Sunday – the eight games played last weekend provided some insight into the state of play.
More so than other years, 2019 is a big championship, given what follows in 2020 with the change in format, so there are more factors than usual to take into consideration.
Since the beginning of the 2016 championship, there has been no automatic relegation, meaning that clubs only had cause to fear the drop if they had gone without a win in either of the previous two years. Such a safety net meant that no senior football team was relegated in that period, though Aghada opted to re-grade to premier intermediate before the start of the current campaign.
However, with 2020 seeing a big change with a move to four 12-teams grades, there is suddenly an urgency for teams to prove that they belong in the new premier senior championship, as opposed to the second-tier senior A.
Obviously, the results from last weekend are only a snapshot and don’t take into account the fact that a team may have had an off-day, but they are nonetheless interesting.
Castlehaven and Bishopstown each lost by a point to Fermoy and Douglas respectively, but the other margins weren’t so tight, ranging from the six points Clonakilty had on Newcestown up to the 15-point cushion St Finbarr’s had on Clyda Rovers and Dohenys’ 22-point win against St Nicholas.
Losing by considerable amount doesn’t automatically condemn a team to the lower tier, of course. Prior to last week’s vote by clubs on which option to choose for the championship from next year, the county board issued the current standings based on the criteria which will be used for grading next year. Valley Rovers, quarter-finalists in each of the past two seasons, were in sixth place but they lost their opener by 11 points – however, the fact that it was against Nemo Rangers mitigates somewhat.
There is no guarantee that the new system will end one-sided games, the same way that, at national level, the Super 8s wasn’t an immediate cure to all ills. What it should do is reduce their frequency and lead to better, more competitive, championships, with battle-hardened winners then progressing to the Munster competitions. Apart from Nemo and Newtownshandrum, Cork’s last senior provincial wins were UCC in football in 1999 and Midleton in hurling in 1987.
While the ranking system takes into consideration performances over the past three years, clubs will be aware that there is a ‘fast track’ method to securing a premier senior place for 2020, as the eight quarter-finalists this year will be guaranteed places in the top tier.
For the likes of premier intermediate champions Fermoy, starting off on zero points and therefore ranked 19th of 19, a win over Castlehaven to put them into round three is a huge boost, though of course there is now a long break until they and the rest of the first-round winners see action again.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Haven were the only West Cork side to lose to non-West Cork opposition and they must negotiate the second round for the first time in 13 years. Missing Brian Hurley for the game on Sunday was a blow, while they were only able to call on his brother Michael for part of the second half. Should one or both return for the back-door game – no draw has been made yet – then their presence in the knockout stage shouldn’t be in doubt. In any case, with a ranking of fifth, they will be playing premier senior next year even if the worst were to happen.
Before last weekend, Clonakilty were tenth, Ilen Rovers 11th and Newcestown 12th in the standings while O’Donovan Rossa and Dohenys were 15th and 17th respectively. Clon, Skibb and Dohenys all won, to give themselves a boost, though Newcestown’s loss to Clon means that a lot is riding on their second-round tie.
As ever, they will have dual considerations to contend with – coincidentally, they are also 12th in the hurling rankings ahead of the commencement of action there – and while Ilen don’t have to worry about the small ball, they face a tough opener against Ross in Castlehaven on Sunday.
The easiest thing for teams, as Dohenys manager Denis Healy said after their win, is just to make the quarter-finals and remove any doubts about what level they’ll be play at next year. However, with ranking points at stake, every single game will count.