EVEN though they will be favourites to progress from a familiar looking Premier SFC group, Castlehaven boss James McCarthy is predicting the battle for the two knock-out spots on offer to go down to the wire.
Like last year, Castlehaven, Newcestown and Carbery Rangers have been drawn in the same group, and they will be joined in Group B by the winner of the delayed 2020 Cork SAFC final between Mallow and Éire Óg. It’s another West Cork group of death.
Castlehaven are still waiting to play the 2020 Cork Premier SFC final against Nemo Rangers, but they already know what teams stand in their way of getting to the knock-out stages of the 2021 championship.
‘Between Ross, Newcestown and ourselves, it’s always a kick of a ball between us on the day and it will be the same again this year,’ McCarthy says.
‘With Eire Óg or Mallow, that’s a team that will be after winning a county title and who will be on a high, and that will bring a new dynamic to the group because we won’t know what to expect.’
Would McCarthy and Castlehaven have preferred different opposition rather than take on Newcestown and Carbery Rangers in the group stage for the second year running?
‘Whoever we were going to get was going to be tough because there is no easy draw,’ the Haven boss says, ‘and at this level it shouldn’t matter to any player who we play.’
Two more West Cork teams have been paired together in Group C as Clonakilty and Ilen Rovers are in with St Finbarr's and Ballincollig. Ilen were in with Castlehaven, Newcestown and Carbery Rangers last year and they’re looking forward to the change of scenery this season.
New Ilen senior football manager Jason Whooley feels that avoiding an exact repeat of last season’s West Cork group of death is good news for his side.
‘Looking at the teams beforehand, there was never going to be any easy opposition,’ Whooley says.
‘When I saw Group B and the first three teams, I felt it was going to be a repeat of last year‘s group! I think the fact that we don’t have the same local derbies as last year is a help because the local rivalry can add extra pressure.
‘In general, we’re just really looking forward to getting back on the pitch.’
In the Premier SFC, there are three groups of four. Only the top group winner will qualify for the semi-finals, with the remaining two group winners, the three second-placed teams and the divisions/colleges winner qualifying for the three quarter-finals. Meanwhile, the relegation final will be a straight play-off between the two lowest ranked teams (in terms of points won and scoring difference) amongst the three bottom placed teams from the groups.
The 2021 Cork Premier SFC draw is as follows – Group A: Nemo Rangers, Valley Rovers, Douglas, Carrigaline; Group B: Castlehaven, Newcestown, Carbery Rangers, Winner of Mallow/Éire Óg; Group C: St Finbarr's, Ballincollig, Clonakilty, Ilen Rovers.