Blackrock supporters will be hoping last season’s beaten finalists can go a step further this year and land their first Cork senior hurling title since 2002.
County champions Imokilly had four points to spare over the Church Road side last October, leaving Blackrock manager Fergal Ryan with the challenge of regrouping his charges ahead of their first-round tie with Carrigtwohill (Sunday, Páirc Ui Rinn, 3.45pm).
They’ve had the winter now to mull over it. Just how much did they learn from that defeat?
“You learn a lot,” says Ryan. “You learn a lot about players. You learn about the peaks and troughs in the GAA cycle.
"You learn what needs to go into it to get to that final stage. You have to peak for your first game or you have to show some sort of form and then there is a gap.
“We tried a lot of things. Some worked, some didn’t, some we are not quite sure did they work. But you take a gamble and if it adds a slight percentage then it is worth doing. I am a full believer that you don’t have to do the exact same thing to get to the exact same place.
"You have to keep the guys interested and fresh and try to get them to do the best they can and that is always a challenge.
“We gave ourselves a chance last year, but it was very disappointing in the end. The disappointment lasts so long, and then you get back into it and it is a new year and a new challenge. You have to start all over again. We hope we can get to the same stage and give ourselves a chance of winning it.
"The factors this year are different to last year, you’ve just got to wait and see how that will play out.”
Having emerged from a long season, will there be a different approach this time?
“Last year we didn’t start training until the end of February because we had quite a long year previously. We weren’t firing on all cylinders at the start of the year, but we gathered momentum. We have adopted that policy this year.
"Early stages, we are just trying to gather and get ourselves together. And that will hopefully have us there at the latter stages of the championship and playing our best hurling. Will it work again this year? Who knows? We will just have to wait and see. That was one element we said we would replicate from last year to start training the end of February and we will see where it brings us.”
Blackrock have enjoyed their share of underage achievements. There is no guarantee, though, that will transfer on to the seniors.
“Looking at Blackrock, there might be three, four or five fellas come from those successful teams that are coming through. A big portion fall away, another portion don’t have the commitment. There are lots of other things that will take precedent like study and travel and college. As you get older life changes. They find other things, that is life.
“If you look back, there was a lot less to take (away) from sport. If I take myself as an example, it was the be-all and end-all of what I did. You look 20 years on, 30 years on, it can be frustrating but that is the way it is. If they are not showing up or not coming training you have to get that early.
"Every club has it, city clubs probably more than others because of the nature of what is available in cities and maybe clubs in the country see less of it, but they are still seeing it.”
The Rockies begin this season minus three big names from the 2017 county final - Shane O’Keeffe is in Australia, Michael O’Halloran is in Prague until the end of May, and Dylan Stokes has not yet committed as he is commuting from Kilkenny. Nonetheless, Blackrock will be looking to get off to a positive start.
“People might say Carrigtwohill is an easy draw, but there are no easy draws. It is certainly not an easy draw for us. I think people were saying the same last year when we drew Bandon and we were very lucky to fall over the line. If it is the same scenario on April 29 I will take it with two arms.
“I am sure it will form part of Carrigtwohill’s enthusiasm to come out and play us in that we were county finalists. I’d hope from the other side being county finalists you want to go out and play the best, but it doesn’t always come like that.
"That is the mental side of the game that you have to try and get into their heads. And that is the toughest job you will ever get, trying to get into young fellas’ heads.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved