The stakes are unseasonably high as Carbery Rangers and Castlehaven clash in the Cork SFC second round in Skibbereen tonight (7pm).
While the fact that both sides lost their first-round games means that the winner’s claims to an unofficial West Cork title may be disputed, there’s no doubting that they have been standard-bearers from the county’s footballing heartlands over the recent past.
The Haven re-established themselves as a force as they reached consecutive finals in 2011, 2012 and 2013, winning the latter two titles, with wins over their Rosscarbery neighbours in the first two of those years.
Ross tilted the scales with round 4 win in 2014 en route to the county final and while they lost the decider to Ballincollig, two years later they reached the promised land and claimed Andy Scannell.
In 2017, they won the sides’ most recent meeting, 2-11 to 1-11 in the quarter-finals, while the pair were the defeated semi-finalists last year.
A round 3 meeting with champions St Finbarr’s awaits and former Haven manager James McCarthy expects the game to be something of a throwback to the old do-or-die days.
“Especially with Cork football being back on the map, it has generated a lot of interest,” he says.
“There’s no form either, it’s like an old-fashioned first-round game, winner takes all. There’s nothing to go on, really, as it’s so long since they played.
There are no excuses, especially when it’s a local derby. I would take Ross to be slight favourites, based on the fact that they’re in Division 1 of the league and the Haven are in Division 2.
“It’s hard to get challenge games and it’s ages since the first round so you don’t really know what you have until the game is over.
“The Haven last year, CIT could have beaten them earlier in the summer but they got on a roll and that’s how it works. The good teams get better as the year goes on. If the winner was playing nearly anyone else other than the Barr’s, you’d be banking on them making the semi-finals.”
Familiarity with each other means that surprises will be hard to spring.
“Each team will be wary of the other’s forwards,” McCarthy says.
“It’s how they set up then, hopefully both teams will go at it and we’ll have an attractive game.
They know each other down to the ground, there’s nothing much new that either team can bring, except form and that’s on the night.
“I think the first 15 minutes will tell a lot, obviously both teams will know that the other can do damage so you don’t want to let the game get away. When they’re so evenly matched, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a draw.”
If that were to happen, the game with the Barr’s, scheduled for tomorrow week in Bandon, would have to go back. However, whenever it is played, McCarthy feels that the side progressing will be doing so with confidence.
“It’s a great prize,” he says, “if you want to beat the county champions, you’ve a better chance if you’re bringing them out of the city.
“That is a big bonus for any West Cork team and you’re getting them early, so the Barr’s might be cold.”