THE intermediate hurling league gets up and running this weekend, with 12 teams hopeful of getting their campaigns off to good starts.
For two sides there are titles to defend - the Rower won the league last year, while Glenmore took the Shield spoils. Although the championship may be the main course, this competition has proven itself to be a worthy starter as the sides all aim to make the senior grade.
In keeping with the senior scene a number of clubs have retained their managers from last year - Clara, Conahy Shamrocks, John Lockes (Callan), Mullinavat, Rower-Inistioge, Tullogher-Rosbercon and St Patrick’s (Ballyragget). Mooncoin have tweaked their managerial team, with Liam Sutton stepping up to trainer role from selector.
Elsewhere there are wholesale changes among the four remaining clubs. Michael Walsh has taken the reins at the Emeralds (Urlingford), while former Fenians man Martin Gleeson will be hoping to bring St Lachtain’s (Freshford) back to the senior level. Glenmore have former Waterford selector Padraig Fanning at the helm, while Young Irelands (Gowran) will be led by D.J. Carey.
The opening round of games marks the beginning of a busy spell for the clubs. Following a break for the National Hurling League final, there will be two more rounds of league games on the weekends of May 11 to 13 and May 18 to 20. The competition will then break until July, when the final two rounds of games will be held after the Leinster senior hurling championship is completed.
Tullogher-Rosbercon v St Patrick’s in Bennettsbridge (2pm)
Winners in last year’s relegation final, Tullogher-Rosbercon will be hoping to pull the welcome mat from under St Patrick’s (Ballyragget) on their return to the intermediate ranks.
Tullogher will be hoping to score a first opening day win since joining the intermediate ranks in season 2008. However, they will be going up against a Ballyragget side coming off the back of an All-Ireland club win. They too will want to hit the ground running.
St Lachtain’s v Emeralds in Lisdowney (7pm)
The opening day brings local derbies at either end of the county. In the North Kilkenny clash St Lachtain’s (Freshford) will be hoping to do better than last year’s midtable league performance and championship semi-final spot. The new management team of Martin Gleeson, Anthony Dawson and Bernie Burke will be hoping for the same.
Much like their opponents the Emeralds (Urlingford) have a new management team at the helm. The appointment of Michael Walsh and selectors Michael Doyle and Dermot Dunphy has meant bigger numbers at training, but they’ll have to do without Aidan Fogarty for the opening round, just like Lachtain’s will be without former Kilkenny servant Michael Kavanagh.
Young Irelands v Conahy Shamrocks in Clara (7pm)
D.J. Carey’s managerial skills will be put to the test on Saturday when Young Irelands (Gowran) take on Conahy Shamrocks. Carey and his selectors Dick O’Neill, Eoghan Farrell and Alan Roche all hurled with the club until recently, so will put their experience to good use. Irelands have a relatively young panel, but the side is backboned by some stalwarts, not least captain Stephen Byrne, Michael Walsh, Dick Carroll and Thomas Drennan.
Conahy will be hoping for a better league performance this year. In 2011 they won just one game, a run which saw them finish sixth in Group B. While league form mattered little in the end - they reached the championship quarter-finals - some more good results could give them greater momentum at the business end of the season.
Mooncoin v John Lockes in Piltown (7pm)
The first Group 2 game of the campaign, expect a good tough encounter in Piltown.
Mooncoin were solid in the league last year but couldn’t clinch the shield title for their efforts. They went on to reach the championship quarter-finals, but the loss of several key young players could be costly this time around - Liam Sutton will have to do without the likes of P.J. Rowe and Keith Kirwan.
As for John Lockes (Callan), they will be hoping for better fortunes. Fifth in their league group, they made sure of their intermediate status in the championship before bowing out to eventual champions Danesfort at the quarter-final stage. That was no disgrace, but an ambitious team will be looking for better returns this time around.
Rower-Inistioge v Clara in Thomastown (2pm)
This could be a clash of two title contenders. The Rower will be hoping to go one better than last year, when they were beaten in the county final, while Clara will be looking for a swift return to the top flight following their relegation from the senior ranks.
Both sides will have the benefit of the same managerial set-ups of last season, so consistency assured. The key will be their resolve - the Rower were a whisker away from their first ever intermediate championship, while Clara were quickly dragged into a relegation battle they lost.
Glenmore v Mullinavat in Mooncoin (7pm)
The final intermediate game of the weekend, this will be another good test of what both sides will be about for the year ahead. Glenmore have lost Ger Aylward, Fergal Freyne and Richie Mullally to injury, something which could hamper them, but the form of Eoin Murphy as part of a solid young team has been a comfort. Mullinavat have also suffered the loss of Paddy Raftice and Jamie Fennelly to injury. Willie O’Dwyer, currently training in Kerry under Kingdom boss John Meyler, will be expected to lead the charge in what could be a tight game.