THE INSIDE TRACK: ‘Electric’ championship structure is just the tonic

October 25th, 2021 3:00 PM

By Southern Star Team

Micheál Martin (Nemo Rangers) after winning last season's county title. The defending champions were dumped out of the PSFC on Sunday after losing to city rivals Douglas. Photo: George Hatchell.

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ats off to the County Board. This new championship format is electric. All twelve Premier Senior clubs went into action at the weekend with something to play for.

It went down to the wire for the semi-final spot, the five quarter final spots and the battle to avoid the relegation play-off. All games kicked off at the same time so we were all clung to social media as we watched the game of our choice and learned how the other games were unfolding, doing the maths, trying to work out the scoring differences and how the ongoing permutations were going to affect your club’s future.

In the car on Sunday on my way to Leap to watch Castlehaven v Carbery Rangers, my thoughts turned to the possibility of ‘Ross ending up in the relegation play-off and it brought me back to the last time we were there in 2007.

Back then it was a far different format with round one winners progressing to round three and round one losers playing each other in round two. The four losing teams from round two then formed a round robin play-off group and the bottom two teams were relegated. It was our third year at senior and we ended up losing games we were in a position to win against St Nick’s and Na Piarsaigh and so ended up in a real struggle to maintain our senior status.

The other teams who formed what was a real "group of death" were the Barrs, Douglas and St Vincent’s. There were three games so as players we faced another six weeks of training and games to fight for our status. After losing round two it was a horrible period to be facing into as a player. In game one versus the Barrs we were two points up with time nearly up when Fionán Murray stuck a penalty to give them a one point victory and put us behind the eight ball straight away.

We beat Douglas in the next round so on the final day the Barrs faced Douglas and we played Vincent’s. We got over Vincent’s and Douglas pipped the Barrs by a point leaving three teams on four points. The Barrs were relegated on score difference along with St. Vincents. It sent shockwaves around the county that a club with such a tradition had lost their senior status but to their credit they bounced back with an intermediate county title the following year to gain promotion again.

My fear heading to Leap having been through that myself is that anything could happen if you end up in the relegation game and if it went wrong it may take years to get back to the top table again. Thankfully a one point defeat to the ‘Haven and Ballincollig putting a score on Ilen meant safety for another year with a lot of exhaling in relief going on as the final whistle approached knowing how the other games were going.

There has been little between Castlehaven and Ross over the past ten years and again the minimum separated the sides at the final whistle. A poor hand pass from Keelan Scannell straight to the highly influential Mark Collins led to a superb injury time winner from the same player. Brian Hurley’s 1-6 proved the difference between the sides even though his marker Thomas O’Rourke went away from the game with his head held high. His early goal meant Ross were chasing the game from the outset.

Michael Hurley made a run towards Mark Collins, then performed a beautiful V cut to get in behind his marker James O’Riordan to receive an over the top handpass. He parted to Brian on the edge of the small square and with Rangers defenders and goalkeeper descending on him he flicked the ball to the net with the back of his fist knowing if he caught it he’d have been bottled up. It showed great awareness from a player on top of his game.

Castlehaven were wasteful over the hour and Ross hung in there and could easily have pipped them late on with a bit more care in possession. So we walked out of Leap happy to have retained our status but I expect Ilen Rovers to re-double their efforts in the coming weeks and get over Carrigaline in the relegation play-off game.

The next sentence out of every Rangers’ supporters mouth after safety was achieved was "Nemo are out."

Douglas blew the championship wide open not alone achieving their first senior football championship victory over their near neighbours but putting them out of the competition.

I wrote in this column earlier in the season about Douglas being the perennial underachievers in Cork with the player power that they have. Who would have bet on them being best group winners and taking the sole semi-final spot?

Clonakilty, already through to the quarter finals prior to Sunday will learn an awful lot from playing a quality outfit like the Barrs having nothing to lose.

Mark White’s sweeper keeper role and a bad turnover led to a goal which put the game out of reach when the scoreline stood at eight points to four.

The Barrs got their defensive match ups right nullifying Dara O’Shea particularly. Liam O’Donovan again suffered a hamstring setback ten minutes into the second half and his and Maurice Shanley’s recovery for the Duhallow game will be big factors in Clon’s further progression in this championship.

What a debut season it has been for Éire Óg securing a quarter-final berth versus the Barrs at the expense of Newcestown.

Newcestown were solid enough in defence where Colm O’Donovan again excelled but were wasteful up front and they are still over dependant on Tadgh Twomey to deliver the scores.

So group stage over, now the real business begins. The way the draw has gone it’s a Barrs v Castlehaven county final for me!

No doubt I will end up eating my words.

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