BY DENIS HURLEY
HAVING gone so long without their first teams meeting in hurling championship action before clashing last year, Bandon and Newcestown will renew acquaintance at the earliest possible opportunity.
The clubs’ SHC third-round game in Clonakilty on September 1st was their first since the 1991 Carbery JAHC final, but when the draw was made for the 2019 opening round in January, the neighbours came out together again.
Having lost by 4-13 to 2-8 last year, Bandon will be keen to atone for that defeat this Sunday in Clonakilty and they are boosted by the return of Niall O’Halloran, who guided them to premier intermediate glory in 2016 before leading them to a senior quarter-final the following year.
‘I’m delighted to be back,’ he says.
‘I hadn’t intended on coming back but to be involved with this bunch again was the draw.
‘It’s about getting back to the standards that the lads had set for themselves. We really haven’t looked back on last year, we’re more just focused on picking up momentum and playing a good brand of hurling again.
‘We want to play a game that will bring the supporters along and give them something to shout about. All people want to see is that you’re competitive so we’ve been building slowly with the league and challenge matches. I have my own ideas on the type of game I want us to play and the lads are familiar with that.’
Also helping is the make-up of the management team. Don McCarthy and Paddy Cahalane were selectors under O’Halloran last time round while Joe Burke and Niall O’Rourke, who had been added, were part of the backroom team.
However, O’Halloran – who is also a Cork minor hurling selector – is keen that nobody gets preoccupied with the opposition.
‘I think that whatever happens on Sunday isn’t going to define either team’s season,’ he says.
‘We have to park last year. Obviously, it’s a good draw and heightens interest, but it would be silly to focus on Newcestown, we have to get our own performance right, work on our game and how we’re going to improve in a couple of areas.
‘As a group, we have our own ambitions and they would just be about beating Newcestown.
‘We’re lucky that we have a full squad, but we know it’s a huge challenge. Newcestown were in the last two quarter-finals and with a bit of luck they might have made the semis. We don’t underestimate them but we know we can’t win unless we perform so it’s about getting that first, it’s all about baby steps at the moment.’
For Newcestown manager Jim O’Sullivan, it’s a similar situation in that he is focused on winning the match rather than necessarily beating Bandon. That said, he expects a stronger performance from the Lilywhites compared to last year.
‘It doesn’t really matter who we’re playing, being honest,’ he says.
‘In the senior championship, the first round will be tough not matter who you’re playing. Whatever the opposition bring, they’ll bring. We have to make sure our own house is in order.
‘I do think Bandon will be more organised but that’s for them to sort out, we must mind ourselves first.’
Newcestown have a few small niggles which are expected to clear, with Mark Courtney the only absentee as he returns from a long-term injury. As ever, managing dual commitments is one of Newcestown’s biggest challenges.
‘It’s tough this year,’ O’Sullivan says, ‘we have more involved. After the football, you only have two weeks to get ready.
‘It’s the same for Bandon, I know, but it’s very stop-start. It’s not ideal but that’s the nature of it and you get used to it.’