A MONTH and more has passed since the senior clubs were last in serious competitive action, so no-one has an advantage in the momentum stakes.
To be honest, this stop/start end of the campaign can be a confusing and difficult time for clubs and team management, but if Kilkenny want things to work out at inter-county level, then this is part of the price to be paid.
The league has reached a serious point when you get to the fourth round. This is especially so for those with relegation problems in the background, because they are running out of matches to save themselves.
Tullaroan, Dicksboro, Fenians and to a lesser extent Clara – if only because of their strong showing in the last round - are in that boat right now. Scrambling to the safety zone in mid-table won’t be easy, and especially not for Tullaroan and the ’Boro who clash this weekend.
There are a few very interesting attractions this weekend. Things should get off to a hectic start with the city derby between O’Loughlin Gaels and James Stephens.
The two teams who will qualify for the league final – the table toppers in Group A and B – may not be decided by the results in this round, but those with relegation troubles will come into clear view.
James Stephens v O’Loughlin Gaels in Nowlan Park – You could hardly find a better way to start off the weekend hurling programme than by watching the clash of champions, league (James Stephens) and the championship kings, O’Loughlin’s in what will be a spicy city derby.
O’Loughlin’s are the only team with maximum points, but with a batch of players gone to work in the US for the summer they won’t find life easy during the next two rounds. The J1 visa travellers will be back in September, but between now and then the plans will be to curtail losses.
Hence the desire early on to get points in the bag before the evacuation commenced.
James Stephens were none too pleased after losing to Erin’s Own (Castlecomer) in the last round. The Village had been the leading scorers up to that, but they were brought crashing to the ground in what was the shock of the round.
The desire to get back up on the horse and start galloping again after that fall will drive on the likes of Jackie Tyrrell, Eoin Larkin, Matthew Ruth, Donnacha Cody and company. That could make all the difference. Nothing drives a team like hurt.
Verdict – James Stephens.
Graigue-Ballycallan v Ballyhale Shamrocks in Hugginstown – It is hard to go against the Shamrocks who are slowly, but surely, generating more and more power and inching towards the real potential in their squad. Losing the championship title last season after winning the All-Ireland didn’t sit easy with them.
They mean business this time, and with the good players and deadly attitude they have, they look the team to beat this season. Shefflin made his return in the last round, and look where he has soared since.
There is every possibility that strong defender, Eamon Walsh, who has been sidelined for months with a hip problem, will make the cut this time. That would be a huge plus.
Graigue opened strong in the league and beat Dunnamaggin and Fenians in the first and second round matches. However, they caught a real tartar in Clara in the next outing. They were run out of it, plain and simple.
What looked an alarming lack of space in a good few positions around the field left Graigue looking very unsure that evening. There is no chance of anything soft here, and especially so at a venue that Shamrocks know well and feel at home in.
Verdict – Shamrocks.
Erin’s Own v Carrickshock in Tom Ryall Park – Now this should be a very, very interesting duel between two teams on the rise.
Carrickshock did very well last season when qualifying for the county final. Okay, things didn’t out for them and they were beaten by O’Loughlin’s, but after years of broken promises and a failure to match results with potential, they nearly got everything right in 2010.
Whatever about anything else, they must have proved to themselves that they are not very far off the mark, off the requirements to be champions. Richie Power, Michael Rice, John Dalton, Luke Gaule, Jamie Power and Michael Rohan have all being going well to date.
After a slow, less than flattering opening against O’Loughlin’s, they picked up things nicely subsequently against Tullaroan and then Dicksboro. However, they don’t want to make too much of those results, because the latter pair look set to be involved in the relegation dogfight at the end of the season.
Most certainly Erin’s Own will be a much hotter challenge to handle. The Castlecomer men have been moving nicely for the past three seasons since emerging from the intermediate division.
Their attitude is great. They get stuck in. They work hard. They go from start to finish. The Fogarty brothers, Damien and Conor never fail to deliver for them. Sean Meally, we must add in the ageless, is an inspiring force in defence and so on, and so on.
Basically Erin’s Own as a team are far stronger than they might look individually. That is their real strength – their all for one, one for all spirit.
To be honest, I haven’t a clue which way this one will go. The pitch is long and wide, which might suit Carrickshock’s style more than Erin’s Own. That’s just a guess, just like the verdict.
Verdict – Carrickshock.
Fenians (Johnstown) v St Martin’s (Muckalee) in Ballyragget – Neither club has sent the pulse racing so far, but games like this are the ones they must win if they want to stay away from the dreaded relegation zone.
Fenians face Dunnamaggin in the fifth round, which won’t be easy. Martin’s would appear to have better prospects with Graigue-Ballycallan in the pipeline.
But we will repeat, this is the sort of match teams chasing points need to win.
The Fenians have been giving what is in them, but that is not necessarily enough in a league in which the competition is hot. All they can do is plough on, continue to put in the effort and hope for the best.
St Martin’s, under new manager Sean O’Neill, are still chasing their best game. That is understandable so early in the season.
Martin’s are not a club who start every season hoping for the best. They believe they are better than that, and consequently their sights are aimed higher.
They have fair talent in John Mulhall, James Dowling, Shane Coonan, Tomas Breen, Shane Cadigan and the ever reliable John Maher. We would like to think they have something big to offer, but they haven’t shown it in recent seasons.
Still, they should be good enough to win this one.
Verdict – St Martin’s.
Clara v Dunnamaggin in Bennettsbridge – Will the real Clara please stand up, you could ask? They were very poor in their opening two matches. Then when nothing was expected of them they walloped until then unbeaten Graigue-Ballycallan in the last round.
Clara literally ran the legs off the opposition and scored almost for fun during the opening period. Liam Ryan (0-6 from play) was powerful. James Nolan (1-3) was great. Lester Ryan, David Langton and the Prendergast boys were all very good.
Clara have set the standard. Now the challenge is to maintain it.
Dunnamaggin are a gritty, disciplined outfit but they lack consistency. One day they can lose to Graigue and then they can beat Shamrocks. It doesn’t add up.
They have a fair sprinkling of hurlers – Noel and Canice Hickey, goalie David Herity, J.J. Dunphy, Ken Moore, Seaghan O’Neill and so on – but there is a bit of a tail to their team. Again you could ask, which Dunna’ team will turn up?
On the assumption that Clara will get a fair bounce from the heroics they showed last time out we give them the nod. They are returning to the scene of their best day – Bennettsbridge – which should be a help too.
Verdict – Dunnamaggin.
Tullaroan v Dicksboro in Freshford – They have one point between them in Group A, with the advantage with Dicksboro. Things, as they say, ain’t looking good.
The losers here could end up being rooted to the foot of the table because their fifth round ties are tough, Erin’s Own against Tullaroan and O’Loughlin’s against Dicksboro. Consequently, it is importance not to slip up in this one.
One has seen Tullaroan twice. One thing is for sure, they let rip. They empty the tank. There is a bit of an edge to them too and they look to have the sort of toughness – not to be confused with a nasty streak – you need to survive.
You will earn your crust against the Mahers’, Michael and Stephen, in defence. Further afield all the Walshs’, Tommy, Mark, Martin and Padraig are fine hurlers who can score. Tommy and Padraig snatched a nice 0-4 each from play in the last round against O’Loughlin’s.
The impression of Dicksboro when they lost to Carrickshock wasn’t great. A lack of a genuine leader, or leaders, is not uncommon with young teams. The ’Boro suffer from that deficiency.
Their goal coming up from the intermediate grade was to survive. A modest, and it would appear, genuine objective judging by performances to date. Eddie O’Donoghue scored 0-10 against the ’Shock, which left 0-3 divided among the other five attackers and two midfielders. O’Donoghue won’t rescue them in every match.
Tullaroan never get things easy against their city rivals. Still, they look to have a better balance and more grit which should carry them through.
Verdict – Tullaroan.