Just in case you had forgotten, the competition is still alive and kicking - the senior hurling league, that is.
The planned games programme was shelved after the Leinster championship defeat by Dublin and all that followed that, and now after a six week delay round four - it was originally fixed for July 12/14 - will swing back into action this weekend with matches on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Once things are up and running again there should be a smooth run through to the finish, with the championship following immediately after the league campaign finishes. And remember, finishing places in the league determine the championship draw so the scramble to get away from the bottom two places in Group A and B, the dreaded relegation spots, will be just as intense as the mad dash for the top slots.
The Kilkenny league is so structured that every point, on the scoreboard and league table, can make a difference when it comes to sorting the final standings, so clubs have to drive hard.
This weekend the action in Group B will be ultra competitive as the top four teams clash. Right now that quartet, Ballyhale Shamrocks, O’Loughlin Gaels, Danesfort and Clara, all have an identical won 2, lost 1 sequence of results, so if there is a decisive result in those games the table will take on a far different look on Sunday night.
James Stephens are at the head of affairs in Group A with maximum points. They are the only unbeaten club in the division. If they can beat St Martin’s on Friday they will be through to the League final.
The runners-up in each group will contest the Shield final.
Canon Kearns Park - James Stephens v St Martin’s. The Village have been really keen since the start. Their run is based as much on a terrific work ethic as a good balance in their team. St Martin’s had better be ready to work their socks off. If not, they will be swamped.
Verdict - James Stephens.
St John’s Park - Clara v Danesfort. What an appealing match! This tie will tell both a serious tale about themselves. All-Ireland intermediate club champions, Clara beat Shamrocks last time out. Danesfort have won two of their three ties. Who is as good, and can be the threat results would suggest? This game will tell us.
Verdict - Clara.
Urlingford - Fenians (Johnstown) v Tullaroan. The right result would keep both in the running for a Shield final place, assuming ’Stephens do the business that is. Fenians hold a slight advantage in that they have a point more than the opposition. They won the corresponding clash 12 months ago at the same venue.
Verdict - Fenians.
Bennettsbridge - Carrickshock v Graigue-Ballycallan. Carrickshock need a win to lift confidence. Graigue need a win to lift them - maybe - off the bottom of the league table. The ’Shock just didn’t look have things together in earlier round. They opened well against The Village, but were beaten. They have a broader spread of good talent than their opponents. To make that pay is the challenge.
Verdict - Carricshock.
John Lockes Park - Ballyhale Shamrocks v O’Loughlin Gaels. This is perhaps the game of the weekend for fans generally. For both there is a lot riding on the outcome. Until their loss against Clara, the Shamrocks were looking very smart, very tidy as a team; the team to beat. With Henry Shefflin, remember he hasn’t yet played in the competition, and Michael Fennelly in a better place now than weeks ago in terms of fitness, the championship kings look to have the power to drive on.
O’Loughlin’s, under the rule of new manager Aidan Fogarty, are trying different things, different combinations and different players. They are a work in progress after it was decided to rebuild the team. This is a good test as a good time for them. Expect them to let rip!
Verdict - Ballyhale Shamrocks.
Freshford - Dicksboro v Erin’s Own. These teams occupy the bottom two positions in Group B. Erin’s Own have an important two points in the bag. That aids their drive for safety, but only that, aids. Dicksboro, who figured in the championship final last season, are without a point and are looking relegation squarely in the face. Hence, both need a win.
Verdict - Erin’s Own.
SHL - the winners
The Shield final was added to the list of competitions in 2006, so the winners of the League and Shield since then are:
League final - Carrickshock 1-15, Ballyhale Shamrocks 0-15
Shield final - St Martin’s 0-16, James Stephens 1-11
League final - Ballyhale Shamrocks 2-13, James Stephens 1-10
Shield final - St Martin’s 1-22, O’Loughlin Gaels 2-15
League final - James Stephens 1-18, Ballyhale Shamrocks 1-17
Shield final - Erin’s Own 4-13, O’Loughlin Gaels 2-18
League final - Ballyhale Shamrocks w/o, James Stephens scr
Shield final - O’Loughlin Gaels 1-19, Clara 1-14
League final - Ballyhale Shamrocks 0-19, James Stephens 0-13
Shield final - Carrickshock 2-17, O’Loughlin Gaels 1-13
League final - Ballyhale Shamrocks 1-18, James Stephens 1-12
Shield final - Graigue-Ballycallan 2-12, St Martin’s 0-15
League final - Ballyhale Shamrocks 1-15, Fenians 0-11
Shield final - Graigue-Ballycallan 4-15, James Stephens 1-15