Mark Bergin has been running up the scores with O'Loughlin's. He scored 1-13 against Bennettsbridge in the last match
The big show that was blasting away in the background, the much hyped, great excitement provider that was the All-Ireland senior championship, is out of the way now and the full concentration of Kilkenny hurling folk is on matters much closer to home.
The way is clear for local leagues and championships to come into their own, and whatever about the rights, wrongs and otherwise of how the season has unfolded to date in terms of inter-county versus local games, there is no holding back now in terms of local competitions.
Kilkenny is ready to blast away towards the deadlines - senior hurling championship final, October 28; intermediate hurling championship final, November 4; junior hurling championship final, October 21.
In general, action in Kilkenny recommenced in the senior, intermediate and junior league/championships on the weekend of August 10/12 after a 17 break to when the ball was thrown-in for the start of first round matches.
No one is looking back. The concentration is on what is in front of clubs. With players trickling back after trips to America and other parts, it is full steam ahead.
Because of the way competitions are schedule to run now, with games coming thick and fast, the priority for all will be to try and find consistency. A team that can find a bit of form and can get a run going could end up anywhere, even as champions.
As clubs face into the second last series of league games at senior level this weekend it could be said trends are developing, but no clear-cut favourite for the Walsh Cup has emerged.
Double champions from 2017, Dicksboro have been beaten. The beaten championship finalists, James Stephens lost a match.
On the other side of the coin, beaten league finalists from 2017 O’Loughlin Gaels haven’t been beaten, and neither have Mullinavat, who took last year’s champions to a replay before losing a quarter-final they might easily have won.
Leaders of Group B Mullinavat lost the talented Tom Aylward to injury (ruptured cruciate), which was huge, but they have kept things together nicely and have posted fine wins over James Stephens, Carrickshock and Clara.
Next up for the Rod Iron men are Dicksboro. What a smashing test to be getting at this time, just as things are beginning to get warm, just as clubs are happy to encourage players to let rip because it will be hurling, hurling all the way to the finish now.
O’Loughlin’s are not getting excited about being on top of Group A, but they are happy.
Could make final
And depending on results elsewhere, they could secure a place in the league final at the weekend if they beat struggling Erin’s Own (Castlecomer), a job they are well capable of doing.
Things are that close to results having deadly serious consequences.
Danesfort, Erin’s Own, Clara and Carrickshock have yet to register a point on the league table. Those among them who lose this weekend can almost certainly expect to be involved in the relegation battle.
Pairc Lachtain - Erin’s Own v O’Loughlin Gaels - Results to date would suggest one outcome, a win for O’Loughlin’s.
The St John’s Park outfit are moving nicely. The defence is solid, with county man Paddy Deegan, a commanding and hugely mobile presence at centre-back. The defence in general has been sure footed, but from there up O’Loughlin’s will have to pick-up things.
There needs to be a greater spread of scorers. To date the reliance has been on free taker, Mark Bergin (1-13 the last day against Bennettsbridge). Opponents who concede frees anywhere from midfield in towards their own goal are running a risk, because Bergin will almost surely hurt them.
Erin’s Own, to be fair, have been showing spirit but a lack of scoring power is hurtling, badly. Michael Murphy has been good on frees, but the men who started around him up front produced a mere 0-4 in the last two matches - Eoghan Meally (2), Eddie Brennan (1), Stephen Daly (1).
Conor Fogarty appears close to getting back to his very best, and Conor Delaney is doing great things in partnership on the half-back line, but the ’Comer men are finding life difficult.
Pairc Sheamuis Stiophan - Bennettsbridge v Danesfort - Neighbours and serious rivals, but right now the ’Bridge have a lot more to be happy about.
In their last two games Bennettsbridge struggled a bit against Erin’s Own, and crept over the line to victory, but then they lost to O’Loughlin’s in a game in which their form was probably better.
The message between the lines is that Bennettsbridge are not too bad, with Robert Lennon, Enda and Sean Morrissey, Jason Cleere, deadly free taker Nicky Cleere, Liam Blanchfield and lively new arrival in midfield, Kevin Blanchfield all going better than well.
At the same time Danesfort struggled against the Rower-Inistioge and Ballyhale Shamrocks. They have a lot to do to dig themselves out of trouble.
John Lockes Park - Mullinavat v Dicksboro - Twice last season this pair lit up the Callan venue with stirring games in the championship. That eventually produced a massive win for the ’Boro, which possibly set them up to win the title.
In real terms, the outcome of Saturday’s clash won’t be as important. Yet, as both sides will be letting rip, it will be most interesting to see what exactly they have to show off.
Dicksboro will be without county captain, Cillian Buckley, but with three players now returned from the US, their pick will be very strong. They looked good the last day when beating St Patrick’s (Ballyragget), but it must be said the latter were weakened by a glut of injuries.
Still, Dicksboro looked good.
Mullinavat beat Carrickshock and Clara in the last two matches. The losers might both be struggling, but still there was a most interesting look about Mullinavat, especially their ability to change things around during matches.
Ger Malone, Willie O’Dwyer, Michael Malone, John Walsh, Ian Duggan, Mark Mansfield and company will be out to make a statement in Callan. Dicksboro will have to be at their best.
Inistioge - Ballyhale Shamrocks v Rower-Inistioge. We all know that Shamrocks have a bright crop of young hopefuls coming along, and with Henry Shefflin and his brother, Tommy, leading them they won’t want for good direction.
Shamrocks looked ordinary when losing to O’Loughlin’s a few weeks ago, but they picked things up and beat Danesfort, albeit with a degree of difficulty. For Shamrocks it appears to be a slow wind-up, because they are better than they have been playing.
The Rower are hoping that hardy defender, Joe Lyng, might be ready to return this time. He would be a huge addition.
Their wins were over Danesfort and Erin’s Own. The quality of the opposition will be better this time, so they know the score. If Shamrocks perform, and there is no reason why they shouldn’t, they can do it.
Gowran - Carrickshock v Clara - Things generally are not going well for Clara, but Carrickshock enjoyed a bit of a pick me up when Michael Rice arrived back last week from San Francisco after the summer break. He enjoyed good training and matches there, so he should be ready to rock.
The depth of talent and leadership Rice can provide will be huge for ’Shock, who have John Power nursing an ankle injury. Still, they have a lot of improving to do if they are to survive, never mind threaten or anything else.
Some of Clara’s hurling has been strong and promising, but they are just not keeping things together. There will have to be greater unit and consistency, because this is not a match either side wants to lose, bearing in mind the possible consequences down the road.
Canon Kearns Park - St Patrick’s v James Stephens - St Pat’s were suffering enough, but then star attacker, Kevin Kelly, pulled up with a hamstring injury in the last match.
He is their main man, their inspiring force. His loss will be huge.
At the same time The Village are running into a bit of form, which is no consolation to anyone facing them.
Long servers Eoin Larkin and Matt Ruth gave good direction to the attack the last day against Carrickshock, and Conor Browne and Jackie Tyrrell added real force to the hurling of the defence.
A lot of responsibility for St Pat’s will fall to the likes of Joe Brennan, Michael Brennan, Brian ‘Brook’ Phelan, Geoff Morrissey, James Gannon (if fit), and they are strong characters who can take it on, but they will need luck to survive.
VERDICT: James Stephens.
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