TWELVE junior hurling teams take to the fields this coming weekend without a safety net - the winners stay in and gain a place in three quarter-finals, but for the losers it’s the end of the dream for 2011.
Mooncoin and O’Loughlin Gaels have already qualified for the other quarter-final spot for junior teams which are the second teams in their clubs. Important to remember that migratory Summer hurlers have returned from foreign lands; others have gone but, sadly, will not be returning while those who had been on county duties during the year will be settling or have settled back into their club teams’ training preparations.
Niggly and serious injuries will provide some worries for trainers and mentors. The true strength of teams will only be evident after these first round ties.
This new all-county junior hurling championship has been widely welcomed by players, mentors and supporters alike but for this round, however, it has a distinctly Northern and Southern Junior Championship flavour with all but one of the ties being fought on old divisional lines.
Barrow Rangers v Lisdowney at Cloneen (2pm)
League champions Lisdowney’s dubious prize for topping their group is a winner-takes-all first round clash with last year’s runners-up Barrow Rangers, who struggled a fair bit in the league section.
This pair could have been tipped for a place in the final and it has the ingredients for an epic game. Lisdowney’s competitive edge in the current year may tilt the balance in their favour.
Bennettsbridge v St Patrick’s at Clara (5pm)
Northern champions St Patrick’s, also well-fancied for final honours, face a young, talented and finely-tuned ’Bridge outfit who will give this tie a right go.
Pat’s greater experience, plus some fine young hurlers of their own, should see them just about prevail.
Cloneen v Slieverue at Thomastown (5pm)
The only North/South clash is important on two counts, with the winners progressing and the losers going into a first relegation final for the Junior Championship against St Lachtain’s (Freshford).
On form it would be fair to say Cloneen would be slightly fancied but the importance of the tie will not be lost on Slieverue who should raise their game for this one. Difficult to call; maybe a draw.
Kilmacow v Thomastown at Mullinavat (2pm)
All-County League runners-up Kilmacow take on a Thomastown team who were only pipped on score difference for top spot in their championship league section.
Both sides have been producing top class under-age sides in recent years, with Kilmacow competing in the minor A final 2010. Thomastown would appear to have a slightly better balanced side and get the vote here to advance and make a serious bid for junior honours.
Black & Whites v Galmoy at Freshford (12 noon)
The Black & Whites (Skeoughvosteen) return from the intermediate grade hasn’t been a very happy one so far, fielding a much changed side.
They will have it all to do against league table toppers Galmoy, whose recent form, including a winning streak to the Northern Championship final, would indicate they may have enough to keep their opponents in the junior ranks for another year.
Piltown v Windgap at Hugginstown (12 noon)
Neighbouring clashes often take on a life of their own with the form book often going out the window and this intriguing battle should follow this pattern.
Piltown, Southern junior champions for 2011, will be wary of a titanic struggle with Windgap whose form has been mixed so far.
The Suirsiders should just about shade it if they can match the resolve of the Red Brigade and, perhaps, make a serious bid to improve on last year.