Ballyhea and Carrig within an hour of remarkable turnaround

Ballyhea and Carrig within an hour of remarkable turnaround
Ballyhea’s Maurice O’Sullivan tries to escape the clutches of Kanturk’s Liam Cashman during round 3 of the Cork SHC Picture: Jim Coughlan.

Let’s call a spade a spade, very few, if anyone, was tipping either Ballyhea or Carrigtwohill to be involved in the last eight of the Cork SHC at the outset of the campaign.

We’re not being unfair to state as much given Carrigtwohill came into the 2019 race having not won a championship match proper since August of 2015.

Ballyhea were no better, their sole championship victory during this period arriving at Carrigtwohill’s expense in June of 2016.

In 2017 and 2018, both clubs wound up in the relegation play-offs after losing their opening two matches respectively.

Ballyhea did bring Newcestown to a replay and were within two points of Bishopstown in rounds one and two in 2017, but narrow losing margins provide little comfort when making an early exit from the championship.

Following their first-round games this April, it looked very much as if 2019 would follow along the same lines as recent years.

Indeed, what we can say with near absolute certainty is that nobody was tipping either Ballyhea or Carrigtwohill to reach the quarter-finals following their respective opening-round games.

Ballyhea were thumped 2-27 to 1-10 by Blackrock at Páirc Uí Rinn, the North Cork side managing just two second-half scores when going down by 20 points.

Not to be outdone, Ballyhea’s opponents in tomorrow’s county quarter-final lost their first-round tie by 24 points (3-23 to 0-8) to St Finbarr’s.

These were the two most one-sided first-round games yet, by the close of business tomorrow evening, either Ballyhea or Carrigtwohill will stand one hour from a county final appearance.

So, what’s changed since they were taken for an aggregate total of 5-50 first time out five months ago?

What was crucial to both teams' survival in the race for the Seán Óg Murphy Cup was that following the opening round of games the Cork SHC went on a three-month summer holiday.

Had either side gone back out a week or a fortnight after their respective hammerings, they’d have been facing into yet another relegation playoff.

That said, there was no visible improvement in form during the championship hiatus as Ballyhea were relegated from Division 1 of the league in July, the same month Carrigtwohill fell out of Division 2 and into Division 3.

Both resumed championship action in August. Carrigtwohill had two to spare against Killeagh, Ballyhea squeezing past Bride Rovers by a solitary point in what was a seven-goal thriller.

Ray Ronan’s charges pulled back deficits of six and four points before moving in front in the latter contest.

They backed this up with a 1-14 to 0-14 victory over Kanturk, a result eked out without key forward Jamie Copps - he is available this weekend having followed all necessary concussion protocols.

Carrigtwohill also broke from their dispiriting form of campaigns past when stringing together back-to-back wins, the victory at Killeagh’s expense followed by a similarly tight tussle against Bandon.

As well as a last-eight berth, those aforementioned results mean both clubs will take their place in next year’s new-look Tier 1 senior championship.

The ranking system unveiled earlier this year outlined that eight of the 12 places for the 2020 senior championship would be reserved for the teams who make this year’s quarters.

The remainder will be determined by previous results and given neither side could buy a win in recent years, they wouldn’t have stood a chance of making the cut had they been knocked out in the earlier rounds.

Ballyhea manager Ray Ronan says having taken care of their top-tier status for 2020 does lessen the pressure somewhat, but knows that such an opportunity to progress to the last four is unlikely to present itself for quite some time.

“This is most certainly a big opportunity for us. It is an opportunity that does not come around too often for a small parish like ourselves. You have to seize it when it is there,” Ronan remarked.

“The way the championships have been set up and the way the GAA calendar has taken shape, it probably leans towards teams with bigger panels in bigger areas.

"When you get such an opportunity, you have to avail of it and give it your best shot.”

Ronan believes improved work-rate and intensity has been key in Ballyhea turning their season around.

“I think lads had a good hard look at themselves after the first-round defeat and realised they just needed to put the head down, put in the hard work, put in the hard yards, and up our levels of honesty and intensity in games.

"I think that is what has changed. They are great lads to train.

"They deserved the break against Bride Rovers in round two, but they created that for themselves. Work-rate, honesty, and intensity, that’s where the difference has come.”

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