The new Páirc Uí Chaoimh has already been good to one of the players lining out in tomorrow’s Cork-Kilkenny clash in the National Hurling League (throw-in 7pm).
Last autumn Seamus Harnedy led the Imokilly hurlers to the Cork county championship, collecting the Seán Óg Murphy Cup in the new stadium before pointing the car east and home.
As a consequence, he captains the Cork senior hurlers this season.
“Growing up it’s the kind of thing that you dream of, obviously,” said Harnedy. “I was only saying it recently, though, I’ll treat this the same as any other year and try to make sure it doesn’t overtake me.
“I won’t be treating the season any differently, I’ll try to provide what I always provide for the team — as far as I’m concerned the 15 lads going out will be the lads who dictate the play on the day.
“It’s obviously a nice honour for me, my club, and my division — I have to thank Imokilly for last year and for the honour of being captain. I want to try and fulfill the same role I always do — train hard, play hard, and if I can help out any of the younger players with any aspect of their game or preparation, I’m happy to do that as well.”
It’s shaping up to be a different season already in GAA terms, with the new provincial hurling championship format promising teams more games in a home-and-away series.
Harnedy’s experienced enough to know that that means taking care not to overdo it between matches.
“Exactly, as a modern-day GAA player you train a lot, and games can appear to be few and far between, particularly with the old championship structure. If there was a criticism for years, it was that we were putting in so much training, with so few games, but that’s changed now.
“This year we’re going into the unknown, four championship games in five weeks is definitely something that’s exciting — but it’s also a phase of the season that’s going to take its toll on the body. The role of the squad will be very important, too.
So will support.
Harnedy’s keen to point out that one huge benefit of the new format is that Cork supporters, for instance, will be guaranteed home games.
“For the spectators, it’s going to be great, particularly people in their own counties — it’ll be great for Cork people to come down to Páirc Uí Chaoimh a couple of times a year for home games that are guaranteed.
“It’s a great opportunity for young kids to come and see the likes of Patrick Horgan or Anthony Nash — or Mark Coleman — so it’s great for the people of Cork to see games.
“That said, four championship games are going to take their toll for supporters as well, in terms of getting to games. We have to be realistic about that as players.”
Because of that, the St Ita’s man says players have to move beyond the ‘first 15’ idea — if someone isn’t on the starting team he can still contribute.
“100%, because if you’re playing three or four games in the championship then the fella who’s played one game, or no game, is bound to be fresher than the fella who’s played four games.
“The fresher man is going to have a greater impact and fellas have to realise that, but it’ll be interesting to see how the Munster championship will affect teams as they go into the All-Ireland series.
“Management will have to play a key role in observing players and their levels of energy, the amount of running they do. There are going to be a whole lot of factors involved and we’ll all have to learn pretty fast or be left behind.”
First things first, however. Kilkenny are in town tomorrow evening, and as Harnedy points out: “You couldn’t pick a better game to start the league, and Cork’s inter-county hurling games in the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
“Every year they come you know what they’ll bring — a ferocious never-say-die attitude. Two years ago we led all through in Páirc Uí Rinn but they caught us with a sucker blow at the end.
“You know Kilkenny will bring that workrate, that intensity, that they’ll keep going to the very end. We’ll have to match that, but it’s a great opportunity for the people of Cork to come down and see one of the best stadiums in the country and to see a great hurling game in it.
“We’d be delighted to have their support and hopefully they can be the 16th man on the night and push us over the line. It’s funny, the season kind of creeps up on you, and now it’s here we can’t wait to get out on the field again.”
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