All 12 Kilkenny senior hurling clubs will be in action over the weekend, and the scene will be set for the quarter-finals by late afternoon on Sunday.
Senior hurling league final in Thomastown - O’Loughlin Gaels v Rower-Inistioge. Winning the League title is not a season maker, but..... Clara won it last year and later they completed the double.
The Rower are in exactly the place Clara were at this time in 2013; they are the reigning All-Ireland club intermediate champions. What’s to stop the Rower roaring on? Nothing really.
Well, there is the little matter of O’Loughlins, who have been moving very nicely, thank you. The St John’s Park club have been reshaping their team over the past season and a half, and manager Aidan Fogarty has to be pleased with progress. O’Loughlin’s are genuine contenders for the championship.
The have a nice mix of experienced players - Brian Hogan, Martin Comerford, Mark Bergin and so on - and flying young guns - Mark Kelly, yes the county man, Paddy Deegan, Jason Quan, Jack Nolan etc - that gives their team a fair cutting edge. Goalie Stephen Murphy has been going well too.
The League final will give both a real chance to kick back into action with championship fare just around the corner. Overall balance would appear to give the city side the edge.
Verdict - O’Loughlin Gaels.
Senior hurling Shield final in Thomastown - Dicksboro v Ballyhale Shamrocks. Ordinarily you wouldn’t think Shamrocks would be too interested in the Shield, but with the rest of the season being squeezed so tightly, everyone is interested in everything.
The Shamrocks have looked really good at times, especially the evening they ripped Carrickshock asunder. With the sort of hunger and delightful form shown there, they would match anyone. They might not risk Michael Fennelly, but you never know.
The ’Boro have two former Kilkenny under-21 managers, Richie Mulrooney and Michael Walsh, pulling the strings behind the scene. They have struggled to get over the line in one or two matches, but there has been a decent look about them. If they could win here it would be huge for them, however...
Verdict - Shamrocks.
Senior hurling championship first round in Tom Ryall Park - Carrickshock v Erin’s Own. Both have been hit hard by injuries, and will be missing class performers. Richie Power, scorer of 1-13 in his last club game, can be the difference.
Verdict - Carrickshock.
Senior hurling championship first round/relegation semi-final in Freshford - St Martin’s v Fenians. The latter dodged the relegation bullet last season. Now they are in the firing line again after what has been a trying season to date.
Martin’s form has been very erratic. They were walloped by Clara. Then they did well against Shamrocks. For that reason, Fenians won’t fear them.
Verdict - St Martin’s, but don’t put money on it.
Senior hurling championship first round/relegation semi-final in John Lockes Park - Danesfort v Tullaroan. Again, keep your money in your pocket. Danesfort will rely on Hurler of the Year in waiting, Richie Hogan, for scores and for Paul Murphy and Paddy Hogan to keep them together at the back.
Tullaroan will be driven by the Walshs’, Padraig and Tommy. They struggle for numbers, but because they are from famed Tullaroan, they simply let rip. That hasn’t been enough this season.
Verdict - Danesfort.
Senior hurling championship first round in Jenkinstown - Clara v James Stephens. The impression was that Clara’s heart wasn’t fully in the league this year. However, the championship, that is a different story. They gave players a bit of space earlier to do different things. Now its all hands on deck.
They have plenty of potential scorers. The likes of Keith Hogan, James Nolan, Liam Ryan, Conor Phelan, Chris Bolger can hurt and then county captain, Lester Ryan and Jack Langton can charge through from midfield and do damage.
James Stephens will be well aware of the dangers. Jackie Tyrrell, Tomas Kehoe, if he is fully fit, and Eamon Sheehy will try and tame the dragons, while Eoin Larkin and hot prospect Luke Scanlon will try and ignite a scoring bomb at the other end. Larkin can be a one man destruction forced.
It won’t be easy against driven champions on a mission.
Verdict - Clara.