Although some Cork county finals may run as late as October 11, county board chairperson Tracey Kennedy believes the championship program unveiled today affords the Cork hurlers and footballers sufficient preparatory time ahead of their provincial semi-finals.
Nine Cork finals across Premier Senior, Senior A, Premier Intermediate, Intermediate, and Lower Intermediate -hurling only- are scheduled for the weekend of October 3/4. But should a dual club progress to a county final in both codes, or was a divisional side and one of their feeder clubs to reach the final of their respective grades, then certain county deciders will be pushed back to October 10/11 and, in the process, narrow the period of time managers Ronan McCarthy and Kieran Kingston have with their full squads before inter-county competitions resume.
The Cork footballers are in Division 3 league action on November 17/18, with their Munster semi-final against Kerry down for the weekend of November 7/8. The hurlers meet Waterford in the Munster semi-final on the October Bank Holiday weekend.
If all nine county championships are completed by the weekend of October 3/4, the Cork hurlers will have four uninterrupted weeks together ahead of their championship opener, one less than what the footballers will enjoy. But if club finals go back to October 10/11, this would narrow to three and four weeks respectively the period of time Kingston and McCarthy have exclusive access to their panels.
In an interview with this newspaper over the weekend, Cork football manager McCarthy remarked that six weeks would be ideal preparatory time.
County Board chairperson Tracey Kennedy described as “fair” the window afforded to both Cork panels.
“We had discussions with our inter-county managers, we would always consult them as much as we can. We listened to their views. We also listened to the views of clubs, quite a number of clubs sent in views. We made a decision to go with a format that we feel is fair to everybody,” said Kennedy.
The chairperson believes the program agreed by the executive and Competitions Control Committee was the best achievable in the 13-week window handed down by Croke Park.
The decision not to utilise the weekend of July 18/19 to begin their competitions was taken on account of the restrictions - dressing-rooms off-limits and outdoor gatherings of more than 200 prohibited - in place until July 20.
The three groups of four format in each grade is what was agreed last year. What has changed is the number of teams progressing to the knockout stages from each group, down from three to two.
“We gave serious consideration to all options,” Kennedy continued.
In seeking to achieve a balance between providing a meaningful program of games for club players and also allowing enough time for the preparation of inter-county teams, we feel this solution best serves that balance and, also, maintains the principles we had agreed on in relation to what our championships should do for us following our consultations over the last couple of years.
It has not yet been confirmed how many divisions and colleges will participate in the premier senior hurling and football championship. There is speculation that four-in-a-row chasing Imokilly will be the sole division who enter a hurling team, while Beara, Carbery, and 2019 finalists Duhallow are expected to field football sides.
Lorcán McLoughlin, a member of the Kanturk senior hurling and premier intermediate football sides, expects very few dual players to line out for their division this summer on account of the heavy games schedule they are facing across late July, August, and early September.
Dual players will play six games (three football, three hurling) across the opening seven weekends of action. This will stretch to seven games, possibly eight, if they commit to their divisional side.
“It is going to be difficult enough for dual club players, let alone adding in games with divisions or college teams,” said the former Cork hurler.
He gave his backing to the modified county championship program.
As a player, you still get three group stage games in hurling and football, so that is very welcome. Everyone will have enough chances to make the knockout stages. I don't think clubs can complain that much.
“How a management structure the week between games, that balance between recovery sessions and preparing for the following week’s game; all that is going to be challenging. The teams who adapt and best manage the workload are the ones who’ll likely go furthest.”
Kennedy said the executive is hopeful of live streaming club games, but this has yet to be nailed down.
“We are looking at a number of different models. I really don't want to preempt anything because they are being looked at by our commercial arm at the moment. We have not settled on any particular model for streaming of games. The priority is going to be for as many people to see the games as possible.”