In each of the previous two seasons since their promotion to the senior hurling grade in Cork, Courcey Rovers have lost the first round before winning their second match.
So far this year, the same pattern has pertained with an opening round defeat by neighbours Ballymartle. A route to the last 16 awaits with a win tonight against Bishopstown, but coach John Meyler is fully aware of the size of the task at hand.
“The senior grade is extremely tough and you’re going to have hard games, we’ve experienced that over the last few years and it’ll be the same against Bishopstown,” he said.
“They got to the county final two years ago and they have some great players, the likes of Shane O’Neill, Pa Cronin even though he’ll be missing, the Murrays [Thomas and Brian], Denis Crowley and Paul Honohan.
“It’s a massive task and even though they lost to St Finbarr’s, the word was that was a game that the Barr’s had targeted.”
Meyler helped Courceys come up from the second tier in 2011 after final defeats in 2004 and ’08. Establishing them as a force is the aim, and to this end he is keen to ensure the coaching players receive is of benefit.
“A lot of fellas get carried away with gym work,” he said, “but that’s not much use if you can’t put the ball over the bar from 30 or 40 yards. You look at Kilkenny, they’re very good at that and it all comes down to effort. Most of what I do is ‘coaching’, in inverted commas, you want fellas to be able to get into the right positions rather than going for Holy Mary efforts, you want to cut them out. Making the right decisions is still most important.”
All the more so in the bearpit of second- and third-round games. While the spectre of relegation looms, Meyler is adamant it cannot be allowed to become a distraction.
“You can’t go in saying, ‘The main thing here is that we’ll avoid relegation’,” he said. “If you lose four matches you go down to premier intermediate and the reality is that if you lose four matches you don’t deserve to be in the senior grade.
“You look at the reactions of teams winning in the first round, fellas are jumping all over the place at having made sure that they’ll be safe for another year, it’s enormous.
“At the same time, you’d often wonder if you’re better off getting a couple of games under your belt if you can win the second round match because then you’re in round four, the same as the teams who won in the first round.
“Look at Sars, they lost to Douglas but then a week later they cruised past Bride Rovers and they’re safely in round four.”
Last year, Courceys lost by a point when they met Bishopstown in the first round in Riverstick. A home league game against the city side in May brought a 2-16 to 0-11 win, one of only three for the Ballinspittle/Ballinadee club, but the lack of victories is not a worry.
“During the league, we decided to play fringe players so as to give them some game-time,” Meyler said. “The results overall weren’t great but you have to take that rotation into account.
“In the Ballymartle game, we were well in it for 40 minutes and then we conceded a silly goal and they really kicked on after that.
“They’re an excellent side and they’re capable of doing that if you let them. We were disappointed, obviously, but we’ve trained hard since then at making sure we’re able to put things right. In a rural club with small numbers compared to the likes of Blackrock or Sars, trying to stay up senior is hard work. When you see the genuine people involved here, people who love hurling, you see what it means.”
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