IN the same way that winning the Munster senior hurling championship seems to be more of an impediment than an advantage in terms of winning the All-Ireland, so it seems that winning in the first round of the county championships is a hindrance.
Since Cork last won the Liam MacCarthy Cup in 2005, following on from a provincial win, only Tipperary in 2016 have managed to come through the front door to go all the way. In fact, reaching and losing the Munster final isn’t all that much of a help either – Tipp’s win over Kilkenny on Sunday made them only the fourth team since 1998 and the second Munster side (after Cork in 2004) to bounce back from a provincial final loss to win the All-Ireland.
Tipp in 2010, Clare in 2013 and Limerick last year have managed to recover from early Munster losses to go all the way, while Clare (2002), Limerick (2007), Waterford (2008 and 2017) and Tipp (2014) have made the All-Ireland final despite setbacks at the beginning of the campaign.
It’s far from an exact science, but a large part of the reason seems to be the long lay-off between the Munster final and the All-Ireland semi-final – this year, Limerick had a four-week gap while Kilkenny played Cork before downing the Shannonsiders and Cork found it similarly difficult against Waterford and Limerick in semi-finals in 2017 and 2018.
In Cork, the situation wasn’t as dramatic, but the changes to the Munster hurling championship have contributed to a more pronounced situation. Previously, the draws for the second-round games – featuring teams that lost in the first round – took place at convention in December in tandem with the fixtures for the first round and then played fairly soon after those matches.
However, with April the only month available before the inter-county scene kicks in in May and June, only first-round games are now played. As a result, the draws for the second-round ties took place at the end of May this year, with the games not played until action resumed at the beginning of August.
The knock-on effect has been that second-round winners have been back in action fairly quickly in round 3 and are going in with a game under their belts against teams that won in the first-round but are having to find form quickly after a four-month lay-off.
Bandon discovered that on Saturday in the SHC. Having beaten Newcestown in their opening game, they were up against Carrigtwohill, but the East Cork side had beaten Killeagh a fortnight beforehand and were that bit sharper, especially in the first half.
Similarly, Newcestown faced off with Newtownshandrum in the second round and, after the North Cork side won out, carried that momentum into their third-round win over Blackrock.
So far, there have been eight games between teams that won their first round and sides that lost in the first round before bouncing back in round 2, with five of those won by the teams in the latter category.
It’s a trend that Carbery Rangers will hope holds true on Sunday as they take to the field against the reigning county champions, St Finbarr’s, in Bandon. Saturday evening saw the Rosscarbery side come out on the right side of a ding-dong battle with Castlehaven in Skibbereen, with extra time required to find a winner after the original 60 minutes proved to be as close as many expected.
Last week, former Haven manager James McCarthy described it as an old-fashioned championship tie and it will be the same situation this weekend – all on the line and winner takes all.
The Barrs have proven to be a tricky obstacle for Ross, the Togher side winning semi-finals between the clubs in 2009, 2010, 2017 and 2018, but the fact that this is in a West Cork venue, as well as having a tough game behind them, could be of benefit here.
Back in April, the Barrs won by 3-12 to 0-6 when they faced Clyda Rovers, but the Ross game will be their first championship outing in 141 days.
Of course, that additional 20 minutes for Ross against the Haven might have taken too much out of them – in which case, if the Barrs win, they were fresher and Ross were tired. There’s an explanation for everything, we just need to know what happens first.