The action sweeps into the last round of the senior hurling league with lots of permutations in the mix for lots of clubs.
This will be ‘Decision Saturday and Sunday’ in Kilkenny because the League and Shield final pairings, plus the four teams to be involved in the relegation zone, will all be decided with 24 hours.
Okay, places in the league final are not considered as valuable as a place in the championship final, but with the league/championship ready to roll on like a knock-out competition from now on everyone will be out to get on a bit of a roll.
And remember, finishing places in the league determine the championship draw. Consequently the clubs involved in the first round of the championship and relegation semi-finals will known their opponents on Sunday evening.
James Stephens and Carrickshock are the main contenders for the league final in Group A, while All-Ireland intermediate club champions, Clara look a more than decent bet in Group B, which includes championship holders, Ballyhale Shamrocks.
The latter pair are level on six points each. Clara hold the advantage because they beat Shamrocks in their head-to-head game in round three (1-12 to 1-11). The results in the head-to-head matches decide the order when teams finish level on points.
Bearing that in mind, if Clara and Shamrocks finish up with eight points each, then the former will go through to the final, even if Shamrocks have a better scoring average. The scoring averages would only come into play if three teams finishing level on points, which shouldn’t enter the equation.
The two places at the bottom of Group A, the relegation slots, are not absolute. Graigue-Ballycallan will be involved there, but who will join them has yet to be decided. In Group B, Erin’s Own and Dicksboro look set to finish at the bottom.
John Lockes Park: Carrickshock v Tullaroan - This is the sort of tie that makes the Kilkenny league so appealing. A week before the start of the championship both face a contest with real meaning. A win could propel ’Shock to the top of the table. A Tullaroan win would guarantee their safety. It will be interesting to watch it unfold.
Verdict - Carrickshock.
Freshford: Fenians v St Martin’s - Both have to go all out playing the percentage game. Fenians need a victory. Then they must hoped that others stumple so they can get out of the bottom two. Martin’s, who looked a decent outfit when beating The Village last time out, want a win. That outcome might, and one stresses might, do the business in terms of the league final. Anyway, they need to keep moment going. Winning is the only way.
Verdict - St Martin’s
Palmerstown: James Stephens v Graigue-Ballycallan - The Graigue defence looked so porous against Carrickshock the feeling was their season was doomed. The Village won’t show mercy. While others might be lukewarm about the league, they are not. That healthy attitude should get them what they want - a place in the league final.
Tom Ryall Park: Ballyhale Shamrocks v Erin’s Own - Hard to see but one outcome as Shamrocks need the points. A win might not be enough to push the championship kings through to the league final. But win they must if they want to keep the door open. Erin’s Own look booked to battle against relegation.
Verdict - Ballyhale Shamrocks.
Thomastown: Danesfort v O’Loughlin Gaels - A draw would be the ideal outcome for both, because it would secure them against any hassle. The top of the table is not an option. The head-to-head scenario against those below them is in their favour, so they look secure in the top flight no matter what. Okay place to be. But ambitious teams don’t turn off.....ever.
Verdict - O’Loughlin Gaels.
Freshford: Dicksboro v Clara - Clara can’t let up. They are within a win of the league final because they beat the other hot contender in the group, Shamrocks. Dicksboro won their last tie, so they won’t want to let up. Clara look the better balanced side. They have a huge incentive.
Verdict - Clara.