Tom Lyons will be keeping a close eye on the fortunes of these ten teams in the season ahead
WHILE we all support our own club and intercounty teams first and foremost, we also like to keep an eye on many other teams that have caught our eye or made the headlines.
That’s what being a GAA supporter means.
Time was when it was word of mouth or the newspapers that kept us in touch with all these teams. Then local radio took up the challenge, soon followed by internet, club and board websites and various forms of social media. Now, you can follow the fortunes of most teams without ever leaving your sitting room.
Of course nothing beats being at the games but there is so much activity on the pitches these days that it is impossible to take it all in. The armchair supporter is now seriously in the majority in the association and chatrooms show us clearly how they think and feel. Were we better off without it?
Be that as it may, what are the teams we will be keeping a close eye on for 2018?
Cork senior hurlers: We were all delighted with 2017, although it brought a disappointing end in the All-Ireland semi-final against Waterford. But there was a restoration of pride in the jersey, an unexpected Munster title, some marvellous displays of fast, lively, Cork hurling and the blooding of new young players. The question now is can we continue the development under new management?
The surprise factor is gone and the team will get nothing soft. We may not win anything this year but continuation of the type of hurling they played last year and, especially, the competitive, fighting spirit would satisfy most Cork fans.
Cork senior footballers: Apart from the last outing against Mayo, 2017 was a disastrous year for Cork senior footballers. We have fallen so far from 2010 it’s frightening and nobody seems to have the answer.
New management, led by Ronan McCarthy, will be expected to bring new urgency and the young talent should be available but Kerry’s domination of the minor grade in recent times is worrying. We suffered enough bleak periods in Cork football, 1977-83 springing to mind, and we certainly don’t want to live through those dark times again.
Right now, we haven’t a clue what to expect from McCarthy’s charges in 2018 but getting out of Division 2 of the league would be a good start.
Carbery Rangers: They have given us a decade of superb entertainment, top-class football, exciting duels in sun and rain. They fully deserved their hour in the sun in 2016, and much more, but where are they as 2018 looms?
The great veterans like the Hayeses, MacMahon and so on aren’t getting any younger and it can’t be easy to keep going, year in, year out. Can they fast-track their promising young players and jump straight back, or will there be a lull for a few seasons? Will they be genuine challengers again in 2018?
Ballinascarthy junior hurlers: They have been knocking on the door for the past few seasons with a host of promising young talent coming through, winning two league titles in succession and threatening in the championship.
Will 2018 be their year in West Cork hurling or will their championship weak spot strike again? There can be no excuses this time, the young stars are now maturing, the talent is there. The Flyer Nyhan is calling.
Bandon premier intermediate footballers: It wouldn’t be fair to say that their football express stalled in 2017 as they were knocked out of the championship in the semi-final, after going straight through the junior and intermediate grades in two years.
A fairer assessment is that their dual commitments, with their hurlers copper-fastening their place in senior ranks, caught up with them. They won Division 4 of the football league so there’s nothing wrong with the engine, just a matter of more fine-tuning for 2018.
Can they land the county premier title and field teams in both senior football and hurling as they did in the late 1950s? It would be a marvellous achievement.
Cork senior ladies’ footballers: We all knew it couldn’t last forever but it was disappointing nevertheless when the train came off the tracks in 2018.
The underage talent is coming through, so that’s no problem for the future.
The question is can they regain the appetite, keep going to the well, and, more importantly, can they nip the Dublin revival in the bud?
Nobody wants to see the Dublin ladies taking over like the male footballers but then, I suppose, people were getting tired of Cork winning every year.
A whole new challenge faces Cork ladies and we look forward to seeing their response in 2018.
Kilmacabea junior footballers: The monkey is off their backs, history books rewritten, no excuses now. A team nicely balanced with mature players and promising U21s with one of the best forward lines in junior football.
How will they respond to their history-making season of 2017 and, more importantly, to losing charismatic manager, Kevin O’Driscoll? It won’t be easy to retain the Mick McCarthy Cup, with a big target on their backs, but their goal must be the county junior title. They were close last season and they need the higher grade to develop properly. They are a better side than many competing at intermediate. Maybe it’s all mind-games for 2018.
Carbery senior footballers: Carbery senior footballers were always among the favourites for the county title because of the huge amount of footballing talent in the division.
Unfortunately, the train has been derailed in recent seasons due to the back-door championship system for all club teams, the extra demand on players, the outrageous fixtures handed down by the county board and a lack of interest among clubs. The 2017 season was a huge disappointment, losing out to unfancied Kiskeam, so we await with interest the response from all involved in 2018.
Is the day of divisional football power at an end or can Carbery follow the example of Imokilly in hurling?
Cork underage hurling teams: Almost a great year in 2017, after years in the doldrums, what can we expect from 2018?
Will the new U17 minor championship, with Cork as reigning champions, capture the imagination of the public or have we made a huge mistake in getting rid of the U18 grade? Will the Cork development squads continue to produce more players like last season’s minors and U17s?
What of the Munster U21 hurling, a total stranger in Cork at present, can Cork make a breakthrough in that grade? Most importantly, can we restore the fear factor that other counties used to feel in the distant past when they faced Cork in underage? The start was made in 2017, now let’s see the follow-through.
Cork senior camogie team: That winning point against Kilkenny was probably the individual highlight of 2017 for many Cork GAA fans and we look forward with relish to the next clash with the Cats.
Cork begin their national camogie league campaign this weekend and the good news is that Paudie Murray has decided to stay on as manager, while eight-time All-Ireland winning goalkeeper Aoife Murray is the new captain.
This is a team with a mix of youth and experience and they know how to win, showing tremendous character to beat then reigning champions Kilkenny in last year’s thrilling All-Ireland final.