Local games still No. 1 with all the clubs

The inter-county scene will be the primary focus over the next couple of months, but the majority of players in Kilkenny are already looking forward to the end of April and the commencement of the club leagues.

The inter-county scene will be the primary focus over the next couple of months, but the majority of players in Kilkenny are already looking forward to the end of April and the commencement of the club leagues.

The football leagues will start earlier but they will not deliver the same level of competitive intensity which will be witnessed during the hurling leagues.

Everyone is in prediction mode at present, wondering who will get hold of the three main championship trophies.

As with any year there will be favourites, but no certainties.

Reigning senior champions Clara have every chance of retaining the title. They would not have been the favourites this time last year but did become title contenders after winning the All-Ireland intermediate club title.

The only downside to Clara’s success was the fact that they had to play in the Leinster club championship one week after the Kilkenny triumph.

Perhaps the panel overdid the celebrations, nevertheless they (or whoever won the Kilkenny championship) should reasonably have expected a two-week break.

Given the youthfulness of the side, the reigning champions have every chance of retaining the title.

There is a good balance to the team and its work ethic was a big factor last year.

Beaten finalists Carrickshock’s biggest challenge will be more psychological than anything. They have the ability to capture a much sought after county title, but much will depend on how quickly the players can overcome the mental anguish of last year’s defeat.

Ballyhale Shamrocks and James Stephens will always be contenders. The former will be a much stronger force with a fit Michael Fennelly available, but The Village cannot be as reliant on Jackie Tyrell and Eoin Larkin.

Of the remaining senior sides O’Loughlin Gaels will again be serious challengers, but as with any year we can expect one or two sides to emerge from the pack to challenge.

One of those could well be the Rower-Inistioge, the new team at senior level this season. This is a side with plenty of youth and experience. I don’t believe they will be overawed by the higher grade.

After their recent under-21 ‘A’ success Mullinavat will harbour real hopes of winning the intermediate title. St Patrick’s (Ballyragget) will be stronger and Graigue-Ballycallan is good enough to return to the senior grade at the first attempt.

St Lachtain’s (Freshford), Glenmore and Thomastown are also serious contenders. The intermediate champions is likely to come from one of those six sides.

Mooncoin’s demotion to junior makes the grade even more challenging. Bennettsbridge will be favourites but this is probably the most difficult grade to predict a winner.

After losing the last two finals the ’Bridge will be desperate to win at the third attempt. In addition, they will also have one eye on the under-21 Roinn A title where they will also start as favourites.

That poses a dilemma, but the primary focus must be on winning the junior title.

The All-County Junior Hurling League is ideal preparation for the junior championship and we will get a clearer picture of the championship contenders as this competition progresses.

The one thing about the junior grade that I like most of all is the frequency of games throughout the main playing season.

I am sure the senior and intermediate players must look on this regular games schedule with some envy.

That is the basis on which any worthwhile competition is defined - how many games it provides for the participants, plus the quality of the games. It is no use having competitions for competition sake.

The standard of competition in Kilkenny is generally good, a fact borne out by results recorded by the county’s representatives in outside competitions.