This is weekend of big divisions

Michael Dermody (Ballyhale Shamrocks) gets away from Eoin McGrath (St. Martin's) during the SHL encounter in Bennettsbridge.  (Photo: Eoin Hennessy)
This is the weekend of the big divide. Four clubs are already assured of quarter-final places. Four more will make the cut too, but the remaining quartet will be left to wonder.

This is the weekend of the big divide. Four clubs are already assured of quarter-final places. Four more will make the cut too, but the remaining quartet will be left to wonder.

The start of the knock-out section in the senior hurling league/championship is always an exciting, challenging and at the same time worrying period for clubs.

Those with high hopes will be looking towards gaining places in the last eight of the championship, with the Walsh Cup still on the radar.

For two clubs who lose matches at the weekend, they will be finished with serious competition for the season, and two more will face that dreaded battle against relegation.

The latter, the battle against the drop back to the intermediate division, is the deadly serious thought that occupies the minds of those who finished in the bottom two in each group after the five rounds of matches in the league section of the competition.

Sure, they could still win the title, but securing their place in the senior grade is the top priority right now. A win at the weekend will do that before thoughts can turn to any other goal.

The Kilkenny league/championship is a performance related competition. The better you do during the five rounds of the league, the more you get, the safer you are.

O’Loughlin Gaels and All-Ireland intermediate club champions, Rower-Inistioge finished top of their respective group and they will contest the League final on Saturday. The bonus for doing so well is that they go straight through to the championship quarter-finals.

Following up behind them were Dicksboro and Ballyhale Shamrocks, who finished as runners-up in their groups. They will contest the Shield final.

Again, the bonus for both for doing so well is they go through directly to the knock-out quarter-finals.

All the others, eight clubs, face first round knock-out matches at the weekend.

However, the ‘in betweeners’, if you like, Carrickshock, Erin’s Own, defending champions, Clara and James Stephens secured their place in the senior grade next season by virtue of their finishing places in the league table. The winners in their matches will slip through to the quarter-finals.

The two losers will pack up their bags until the 2015 season comes round next April.

The remaining four clubs - Tullaroan v Danesfort; St Martin’s (Muckalee) v Fenians (Johnstown) - will be involved in first round/relegation semi-final matches on Sunday.

Before any of them can even consider a shot at the title, they have to get beyond this match. The winners will go through to the quarter-finals. The losers will face a tough, tough battle in the relegation final.

The relegation final is not where anyone wants to be.

The Fenians were in this territory last year. They played Graigue-Ballycallan in a tough, tense and close relegation final. They escaped.

As the clubs prepare for the big battles, there are concerns all round.

Shamrocks are hoping Michael Fennelly will have shaken off the leg injury that cut short his involvement in the thrilling All-Ireland final win over Tipperary. Henry Shefflin is nursing a knock too.

Erin’s Own will be without gifted attacker, Michael Murphy, whose season was ended by a serious training ground accident. He was, apparently, struck in the Adam’s apple by a flying sliotar a few weeks ago. Medical advice was that he should take a break, a long one.

With Peter Donovan and Aidan Moran already victims of cruciate ligament injuries, things are a bit stretched in the Castlecomer club at the moment.

Carrickshock will be without former All-Star, Michael Rice, whose season was again destroyed by injury, and Niall Tennyson, who broke a bone in his leg recently.

James Stephens have concerns about Ger Flood (broken finger) and Tomas Kehoe (ankle), but the latter should make their clash with Clara.

The champions, Clara, seem to have everyone coming right at the right time. John Phelan has recovered from injury. Keith Hogan and James Nolan are ready to resume after spending part of the Summer in the US.

It will be most interesting to see how everyone is placed come Sunday evening.