IT MAY be early in the season, but the appetite to know what is going on, who is doing well and what not, is huge among Kilkenny hurling followers it would appear. While a lot of first round matches in the senior and intermediate leagues were played at the same time on the opening weekend, the crowds attending most games were decent enough.
One match on that programme on the Sunday evening two weeks ago was in Tullaroan - the intermediate tussle involving John Lockes (Callan) and St Lachtain’s (Freshford) - and because it was a ‘lone’ fixture with few counter attractions it drew a right crowd to the North Kilkenny venue.
The Tullaroan club had plenty of stewards on duty, and getting into and out of the grounds was a doddle. We sometimes take such things for granted, but credit where it is due.
Anyway, the point is that because clubs share the ‘gate’ money from these league matches, and because costs of running have skyrocketed, having a greater spread of games can be for the benefit of everyone. Clubs can be rewarded with bigger gates. Many, many fans love to go to three, four and maybe more matches over a weekend.
There is a better spread of matches at different times and on different days in both divisions this weekend. This is one round for the fans. Enjoy the fare!
Fenians v Graigue-Ballycallan in Nowlan Park - This is the sort of match that could surprise. Okay, it wouldn’t be classed among the mainline shows, but don’t let that put you off. Both experienced difficulties last season, but they got this campaign off to a winning start.
Small things can made a big difference in sport. The suggestion is not that either will now belt away and win the league or championship, but they would be well capable of causing a surprise here or there.
The hamstring inury - it is the other leg, not the one injured before - suffered by J.J. Delaney give the advantage to Graigue
Verdict - Graigue-Ballycallan.
Carrickshock v Tullaroan in Callan - Both lost their opening game, Tullaroan by a far from comforting 17 points, the opposition by the minimum margin. Tullaroan have been hit hard by emigration and with a very young team, look set for a trying season. Prospects, in the short and long term, don’t look good for the biggest championship winners (20) in Kilkenny.
Verdict - Carrickshock.
Erin’s Own v O’Loughlin-Gaels in Ballyragget - Now here we have a most interesting affair. Championship kings O’Loughlin’s opened well enough. They got a win that helped put the disappointment of the All-Ireland club final behind them.
If Erin’s Own don’t make progress it won’t be for the want of trying. Their great strengths are attitude and work rate, and let’s not forget, a fair springling of good hurlers. No one will get anything ease against them.
Verdict - O’Loughlin’s (if they are careful).
Dicksboro v James Stephens in Nowlan Park - A city derby game is always an interesting affair. ’Stephens opened with a commanding win to give new manager, Niall Rigney a flying start to his reign in Kilkenny. The ’Boro did well to share the points with Erin’s Own when playing with 14 men for a lot of the way.
The Village are very sure of themselves at this level. The ’Boro, young and talented, are a little unsure after winning promotion from the intermediate division. Their main ambition is to retain senior status. This game will test their ability to achieve that goal.
Verdict - James Stephens.
Dunnamaggin v Ballyhale Shamrocks in Hugginstown - This might be the place to be on Saturday. All the talk is that Henry Shefflin, who went down in the All-Ireland final with a cruciate ligament injury, the second of his career, could make a return for Shamrocks.
Don’t expect it. He probably won’t appear until the third round on May 26 against Fenians (Johnstown).
Shefflin has been working gently enough with the county squad lately. Let’s just say, the old appetite hasn’t dimmed one iota.
This guy is driven. We wish him well.
And what of Dunnamaggin? They have never made life easy for Shamrocks in this venue, and they won’t this time either. Losing to Graigue-Ballycallan in the first round didn’t suggest they were going to blast the season apart.
Still, this is not a bad time for to be facing Shamrocks, bearing in mind their awful run of injuries, Shefflin, Eamon Walsh, Michael Fennelly and so on. Shamrocks managed to cut down Martin’s which was fair going, so people shouldn’t take anything for granted against them.
Verdict - Shamrocks.
St Martin’s v Clara in Gowran - Some teams, for whatever reason, miss the boat when it comes to the start of the season. This pair did exactly that, losing to Shamrocks and Fenians respectively. They simply didn’t play.
Martin’s sometimes give the impression that they believe they still possess the promise shown some years ago when, as an ambitious and larely inexperienced side, they appeared in the county final. That is too far back now to make any difference.
All bets are off as far as they are concerned, even if they are sailing under a less than full canvas. They have to prove themselves all over again.
Clara have been stuck in a rut for a few seasons now. As individuals, they have some of the neatest and brightest hurling prospects around. Martin’s current boss, Sean O’Neill tried to get them to deliver as a team. Now the task falls on Robert Shortall, who is one of their own.
The losers will be four points down. That will bring its own pressures, which is not the way you want the sesaon to start to unfold.
Verdict - St Martin’s.
The intermediate hurling league programme
Mullinavat v Danesfort in Ballyhale - Popular opinion would suggest this pair will be among the real contenders in this division this season. The winners will definitely go hard on making the league final, to begin with. A guess - Danesfort.
Emeralds v Mooncoin in Bennettsbridge - Even with the great heart of Derek Lyng, while without the attacking drive of Aidan Fogarty, the Emeralds will struggle. If Mooncoin don’t add to their victory over Graignamanagh they won’t be among the contenders.
Graignamanagh v Tullogher-Rosbercon in Inistioge - When clubs are struggling a little, they view certain games as possible point earners. Graig and Tullogher know what we are talking about. The losers will begin the slide backwards.
Rower-Inistioge v St Lachtain’s - Since winning the All-Ireland club intermediate final in February 2010, St Lachtain’s have found life difficult. The outlook doesn’t look great. The Rower look a good bet.
John Lockes v Young Irelands in Thomastown - The ’Loches showed a top class spirit and attitude when defeating St Lachtain’s in the last round. A repeat of that mood would be way too much for ’Irelands who are in team rebuilding mode.
Glenmore v Conahy Shamrocks in Ballyhale - Glenmore will look to that young scoring maching, Eoin Murphy to drag them through again. The day he has an off day the Glen’ could be in trouble. Conahy don’t look to have the power to stop them.