Changing times for city giants

Blackrock take on St Finbarr’s tomorrow in the second round of the Cork senior hurling championship, but whereas 30 years ago that was a county final pairing, this season both clubs are struggling.

Changing times for city giants

Blackrock lost to Ballyhea in Round One, and the Barr’s fell to Douglas. Tonight’s losers will play the loser from the Sars-Bishopstown game and edge one fixture closer to the relegation play-off.

St Finbarr’s veteran Ronan Curran says tomorrow’s opponents have quality coming through.

“Blackrock have had some good U21 teams in the last few years, they have talent coming through alright. I think the issue is that it’s very hard to bring through a whole group of U21s at the one time if you don’t have some kind of spine of experienced players already in place to help them to settle into a senior team, and that doesn’t just apply to Blackrock. In an ideal world you’d have a settled, seasoned senior team and pull in two or three players from each year’s U21 team, but that’s not a situation any club — or county — finds themselves in. You have what you have, and must work with those resources.

“I was a little surprised when Ballyhea turned Blackrock over in the previous round, because they have talent coming through, but maybe the lack of experienced heads was a factor for them.”

Former All-Star Curran says the work is being put in out in Togher as well, though.

“We’ve been struggling for a while, in that we haven’t really been challenging for county titles, but huge work is being put in at underage level.

“The likes of Sean McCarthy and Kevin Murray are leading a huge effort in the Barrs from the street league level upwards, and I was delighted to see them win the Féile there recently, and U14 county titles, which augurs well for the future. You’d be hoping to hang on to some of those for the future, particularly forwards, as that’s where we’ve suffered in the recent past, but obviously you’ll be a few years waiting for those players to come through to the adult ranks. We’ve had a couple of decent minor teams recently and got a couple of players from those. Obviously you want all your minors to keep going for participation purposes, but also because you might have a late developer for the senior team.

“A couple of minors every year will keep the senior team fresh and the Barr’s brought a couple of youngsters onto the panel last year who look like they’ve been progressing well. All the underage success in the world won’t do anything for you at senior level unless you promote the right players from underage, and unless they’ll learn, once they come into the senior squad. Even then, you never know.”

The challenges facing the men in blue are replicated across Cork, he adds.

“For the Barr’s, the area is getting smaller the whole time, so you have fewer and fewer players falling in,” says Curran. “Then you have all the distractions in the city that don’t exist in other places around the county.

“You have rugby, soccer, golf, basketball, Gaelic football — compare that to somewhere like Newtownshandrum, where there’s literally nothing but hurling, or places in west Cork where there’s nothing but Gaelic football.

“That’s an issue for the city clubs — catchment areas are shrinking while the distractions are growing. The other night on the Cork U21 team, there were only three city players, after all. Fair dues to the country clubs, they’re strong and bringing players through, and it’s up to the city clubs to match that.”

Tomorrow’s game is a tough one to call for Curran, who only retired himself this season.

“Confidence plays a big part in it, obviously. A single win can start the whole thing rolling. Before their first game, the Barr’s hadn’t won a game in the league, so that wouldn’t have been ideal for them.

“Now they’ve won three games in a row so you’d expect that they’re in a totally different place, in terms of confidence. It’s bound to be higher. They won’t be afraid of Blackrock at all, and vice versa.

“Blackrock were in the relegation final a couple of years ago and for them at that point it was a matter of hanging in there and surviving at senior level until the underage talent started to come through.

“The Barr’s are probably in a similar situation now, where we need to keep our senior status until we can bring through a new crop of players. The team isn’t bad, we’re solid though we’ve probably struggled a little up front. It’s the Barrs and the Rockies. Anything can happen.”

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