By Denis Hurley
AT the beginning of the current championship season, we suspect that the offer of a county SFC quarter-final to Ilen Rovers or Newcestown would have been gratefully taken.
However, now that they are there, they sense opportunity.
Not since 2008 – the year after they reached the final – have Ilen graced the last eight of the championship, going on to a semi-final defeat to Douglas. Three years later, and a replay loss to Carbery Rangers, was Newcestown’s most recent football quarter-final appearance – they had managed it in hurling in 2017 and 2018.
Of course, this year’s quarter-finals are dual-benefit in that the sides qualifying are also guaranteeing themselves places in the new 12-team premier senior grade for 2020.
That means that Newcestown, Ilen and Clonakilty, all of whom were hovering close to the cut-mark at the start of the year, will ensure a strong Carbery representation along with Castlehaven and Carbery Rangers, who had assured themselves of places in the top tier thanks to results over the previous three years. O’Donovan Rossa are in the unlucky 13th spot and so will compete in senior A, along with Dohenys.
However, as Newcestown manager Tom Wilson makes clear elsewhere in this section, next year is for next year and both sides will see this as a great chance to make the last four. Of course, the side-effect of being guaranteed one West Cork semi-finalist is the fact that one will definitely be eliminated. Likewise, Clonakilty will face a tricky task against last year’s beaten finalists Duhallow, but the hopes of an all-West Cork semi-final remain.
The hope behind the reduction in the grades is that more competitive championships will in turn help Cork at inter-county level, though of course the recent minor and U21 All-Ireland titles will also prove beneficial in that regard.
While Kerry and Dublin, both of whom beat Cork in this year’s championship, are the two best teams in the country and will likely show that again in Saturday’s All-Ireland final replay, there is no reason to think the gap won’t close again next year.
For now, the situation with the Dubs and the Kingdom is, on the face of it, the same as it was a fortnight ago. Dublin are still on the brink of history and Kerry haven’t beaten them in the championship in a decade. However, Kerry showed that it is possible to go toe-to-toe with Jim Gavin’s side and not be burnt.
What makes Saturday evening’s replay fascinating is what the counties will try to do differently. Experience means that Dublin remain the favourites with the bookies – understandably, as there will always be more doubts over the challenge until they depose the champion – but Kerry will have taken belief from the drawn game. Historically, 1955 and 1975 are two years in which an underdog Kerry side overcame the Dubs and our neighbours will hope that history can repeat itself.
More locally, Ballinascarthy are celebrating a first Carbery JAHC title in 19 years after Jeremy Ryan’s tour de force in Sunday’s final against Kilbree.
Having lost the previous two deciders – including last year’s to Kilbree, who were going for three in four years – Bal would no doubt
have felt pressure to succeed but they channelled that perfectly and will now move on with optimism.
As well as that, they also have hopes of completing a divisional double, with a junior A football semi-final against Carbery Rangers looming, the winners then taking on St James’ in the final.
Both they and Kilbree face into the county hurling championship and the experience of last year, when they reached the quarter-finals but lost to Newmarket, will mean that Ballinascarthy aren’t overawed or suffer from over-celebrations. Likewise, Kilbree, beaten by Russell Rovers in the semi-finals of the county last year, will dust themselves down and look to bounce back. Who knows, maybe the two clubs could be meeting again before the season is over?