THINGS just couldn’t have worked out any better for the County Board or clubs. All have arrived at the last round of games in the senior hurling league, and the 12 clubs have something meaningful to play for during what could be called ‘Decision Weekend’, writes John Knox.
The finishing places after all the games on Sunday will decide a lot, including - 1 the League finalists (group winners); 2 the Shield finalists (group runners-up); 3 the four teams who will face a relegation battle (bottom tow in each) and, of course, the enitre draw for the first round of the championship which will commence after the All-Irelnad final.
That is the beauty of the League system in Kilkenny. It rewards effort and results.
Finishing places in the league groups, A and B, double as the championship draw with cross playing in the groups (3 in A v 4 in B and vice-vera; ditto teams 5 and 6).
Remember, the top two in each group, the winners and runners-up, are exempt from the first round of the championship and instead get a match in the League or Shield final.
Things are so close heading into the last series of games that it was decided to play the Goup A matches (see league tables) on Saturday evening with the Group B ties the following afternoon. There is no room for slackers, absolutely not!
Callan - Carrickshock v James Stephens - This is about as a close at either side will get to knock-out competition without actually playing in the championship proper. The prospects are simple - win or you kiss goodbye to a place in the League final.
Okay, the League final is not what the season is all about, but what team worth is salt wouldn’t want to play in it? ’Stephens have a slight advantage in that they have a point more in the bag. Also, they have a point to prove.
It was the ’Shock who dumped them out of the championship in a very good game in Callan last season. That was a setback to the Larchfield outfit. The result sent the Hugginstown lads running all the way to the county final.
While some of Carrickshock’s hurling has been good this season, they have missed the huge talent that is John Tennyson, and they just haven’t shown the killer instinct. There is a bit more buzz to ’Stephens this year. The arrival of new manager, Niall Rigney has probably helped that. Things like that often happen.
A win for ’Stephens would put them in the League final. Beating Carrickshock would add to things and would suggest progress.
Verdict - James Stephens.
Nowlan Park - O’Loughlin-Gaels v Dicksboro - In the last round championship king, O’Loughlin’s played a city derby against The Village. Now Dicksboro step into the ring. Not an easy schedule.
A win with a good score could take The Gaels into the League final. Dicksboro have what others might regard as a more serious goal....they need the points to get away from the relegation zone. It all adds up to an interesting clash.
O’Loughlin’s felt the loss of the batch of players who went to the US for the summer when they played The Village. Such losses are not easily carried.
The ’Boro, the intermediate champions, set their No. 1 goal for the season as securing their place in the senior grade. A win here could do it for them, although they could be edged out of the safety zone by scoring averages. Best thing would be to go for broke.
The Walsh Cup holders deserve respect.
Verdict - O’Loughlin-Gaels.
Ballyragget - Tullaroan v Erin’s Own - What do you get when you cross two teams who work their socks off in matches? Ususally a good game! Expect nothing less in Ballyragget.
Tullaroan may have their limitations in terms of class, but they try awfully hard to bridge the game with out and out effort. The Walshs’, Tommy, Martin and Padraig lead the charge, and the Mahers’ are rarely too far behind.
Erin’s Own know the hard work that needs to be put in to earn a crust at senior level in Kilkenny. They never shy away from the demands. They did well to beat James Stephens in the last round. Their confidence has to be high after that.
The argument could be put forward that if Erin’s Own were able to beat The Village, surely they should be good enough for struggling Tullaroan. It’s over to the ’Comer men.
Verdict - Erin’s Own.
Thomastown - Ballyhale Shamrocks v Clara - Shamrocks have twice as many points as their opponents in the League. That tells some sort of story. The Ballyhale boys are on the march again. Be it League or championship they don’t care, they want to win it.
Clara enjoyed their best result against Graigue-Ballycallan when they ran themselves into the ground in pursuit of what they wanted, a win. At the same time they ran the opposition off the park.
The same admirable work ethic may not work against Shamarocks, but it would be the minimal requirement if Clara are to have any chance. They are up against it!
Verdict - Shamrocks.
Palmerstown - St Martin’s v Graigue-Ballycallan - St Martin’s would look to have the advantage here, but even a win probably wouldn’t be good enough to get them into the final because Shamrocks should take the ticket. Aah, but for them the result should be more important than where it might propel them.
If Martin’s are to meet the goals they have set themselves and they think they are capable of reaching, then they have to devour bread-and-butter challenges like this one.
Graigue opened the season well and chalked up good results against Dunnamaggin and Fenians. Then they hit the wall. The points gained could yet turn out to be invaluable, because they might just secure them against relegation.
Verdict - St Martin’s.
Tullaroan - Dunnamaggin v Fenians - On the face of it this could be a run-of-the-mill match for Dunnamaggin. Far from it. The wrong result could drag them into the relegation quagmire.
Fenians are going to end up fighting the dreaded fight - relegation - it would appear, but if they could get a result here they might just make a dramatic escape. Unlikely, however. The loss of powerful defender P.J. Delaney will really hurt them.
Verdict - Dunnamaggin.