Paul Murphy (left) and Richie Hogan will be battling to keep Danesfort in the senior championship
Oh how quickly the landscape can change! Only a few short weeks ago there was annoyance and the main source of discussion was the lack of games for clubs at mid-term in the season because inter-county matches dominated.
Then there was a heavy sprint of matches and action. And now all of a sudden we are heading into ‘Departure Weekend’, the time when at least four top Kilkenny teams will bid adieu to action for season 2018.
That is hard to credit, but two teams from the group of senior clubs Mullinavat, Rower-Inistioge, Ballyhale Shamrocks and St Patrick’s and two more from intermediate outfits Tullogher-Rosbercon, St Martin’s (Muckalee), Glenmore and Fenians (Johnstown) will be finished for the season.
All are involved in first round ties in the championship. The losers will be gone.
That fate was endured by a number of junior clubs two weeks ago, and now comes the ‘Departure Weekend’ for the higher end outfits.
It all seems very sudden. It is!
That is part of the knock-on effects of the stunted season for clubs because of the Round Robin series of games at inter-county level.
And that is how life will continue into the future unless clubs can find a solution themselves to stop inter-county matches putting such a big full stop on their games activities at the height of the Summer.
Kilkenny County Board officers were far from happy with the way the season unfolded for clubs. Consequently, they intend holding a Club Forum later in the year, in late November but probably early December, at which they will look to clubs for a solution to the crux.
The GAA at national level is not going to alter in any great way the structure of the Round Robin series that was successful beyond all expectations, so clubs will have to take charge of their own calendar.
Remember the promise that April was to be left free for club activity? That is still on the agenda, but clubs better be prepared to adopt an absolute stand on that issue, perhaps with an in-built proviso that if bad weather robs a weekend that they get it back somewhere, if they are to win back ground.
Clubs have bargaining power. Remember, players are club players first. That is where they are introduced to the games and where they are nurtured.
This thorny subject can’t be turned into a club versus inter-county issue, but clubs have to be given a better deal.
It won’t be easy to find a solution, but everyone, those directly involved in clubs and even those outside who have an interest in Gaelic games, have been asked for suggestions, ideas about how the local leagues can be integrated better into the calendar.
This year GAA life just wasn’t fair on clubs. Clubs made the best of a bad situation.
But they all know that if there was another season like this one when there was a huge gap between matches in the Summer - 17 weeks here - then they could lose players and officials wholesale.
This weekend more positive things, and trying to win important games, will dominate the agenda. But the issue and debate will be churning away in the background, and it will have to be sorted in the not too distant future.
Meanwhile, it would have to be said that there is no absolute favourite for the senior title as clubs look to the first knock-out hurling weekend.
O’Loughlin Gaels remain unbeaten, so they have to be considered among the real contenders. Defending champions, Dicksboro, have put a good run together after losing their opening match, and they look strong.
James Stephens, the table toppers in the opposite group to O’Loughlin’s, have to be in the frame and if you are looking for a long odds bet, why not Bennettsbridge?
The ’Bridge looked good when beating Ballyhale Shamrocks recently. However, there was a difference in attitude.
The tie was a big deal for Bennettsbridge. Their performance reflected their thinking.
Not so much for Shamrocks, although they didn’t want to lose. The Shamrocks were considered by many to be a hot tip at the start, bearing in mind the success they have enjoyed at under-21 level.
Their form and results thus far haven’t lived up to expectations, it would have to be said. Now they have to cut loose or else.
Mullinavat have their backers, but they will have to step up on things if they are to live with some of the others.
Interesting times ahead. Most interesting. And you know what, starting this weekend the team that can put a mere four wins together can be champions.
Simple, right? Not at all. Not at all.
SH league final in Nowlan Park (3.15pm) - O’Loughlin Gaels v James Stephens.
Heard a man on the terraces at the weekend refer to it as “an auld League final”, as if it were a meaningless venture. Far from it. Not at this stage of the season. This is when teams want to get a run going; to win to boost confidence.
Both are now looking to the next generation of players to start moving big time. Players like Paddy Deegan, Huw Lawlor, Sean Bolger and Robbie Buckley are edging into more serious roles for O’Loughlin’s. It is the same with Luke Scanlon, Conor Browne, Niall Brassil, Tadgh O’Dwyer et al for The Village.
The supporting cast is strong, with Mark Bergin the obvious potential destroyer for the Gaels, and Eoin Larkin, Jackie Tyrrell and Matt Ruth for The Village. Both goalies, Stephen Murphy (O’L) and Gavin Costigan (JS) can be scorers from huge distances too.
A city derby is not a bad way to help get into the mood for the knock-out hurling ahead. Expect a bit of fire.
Looking at the two defences, O’Loughlin’s look the sounder. However, on the assumption The Village can get more from their second tier of players, we think they can edge it.
Verdict - James Stephens.
SH Shield final in Nowlan Park (1.45pm) - Dicksboro v Bennettsbridge.
Now here is a most interesting proposition. The ’Boro have stated openly they want to win everything they can. Since they put that on record, they have.
Bennettsbridge, on the other hand, recently lost a game they weren’t expect to, against Danesfort, and immediately after that won one they weren’t expected to, against Shamrocks. The players have to sort that one out in their own heads.
Certainly, against Shamrocks, the ‘Bridge looked very good. There was real determination about them; there was an edge; their hurling was smart; there was a nice balance to their team; Liam Blanchfield was a powerful force up front. All positive things.
County captain, Cillian Buckley, will sit this one out for Dicksboro because of injury, and there are serious doubts about attacker, Robbie Murphy (shoulder). Oisin Gough and Conor Doheny are out through injury. Ollie Walsh should be back to help drive things on.
For Dicksboro, this is a test, a real test.
Verdict - Dicksboro
SHC first round/relegation semi-final in Clara (5pm) - Erin’s Own v Carrickshock.
A quarter-final place or a battle against relegation. That is the scenario ahead for both. No prizes for guessing what both want.
Carrickshock expect to have former All-Star, Michael Rice and Brian O’Donovan back after injury to boost their attack. Against that, defender John Tennyson, is sick and might not make it.
Erin’s Own hauled themselves off the floor the last day and beat Danesfort, which is something they appear to be able to do routinely going on past results. They had better be able to tap into the same magic formula this time, because Carrickshock appear to have the edge.
Verdict - Carrickshock.
SHC first round/relegation semi-final in Pairc Sheamuis Stiophan (12.30pm) - Clara v Danesfort.
You have to ask, what has happened to Clara? They are slipping down the rankings, and with Lester Ryan a serious doubt for this one, they are vulnerable because their game is just not coming together.
Big things will be expected of Chris Bolger, Conor O’Shea, David Langton and James Bergin in the bid to save them.
There can be opportunity for Danesfort in their opponents troubles. Yet, it has to be said the form of ‘Fort has been average to poor. They had a chance to kick on and get out of relegation trouble after beating Bennettsbridge in Round 3, but then flopped against struggling Erin’s Own in Round 4.
There is little between them. A guess - Danesfort to do it.
Verdict - Danesfort
SHC first round in Thomastown (2.45pm) - Mullinavat v Rower-Inistioge.
Mullinavat finished third in their section, a place above the Rower on the opposite side in Group A. No great significance in that, apart from the fact the Rod Iron men claimed three wins against their opponents two.
The ’Vat featured in the quarter-finals last season, when they could easily have beaten eventual champions, Dicksboro. That is the baseline for expectations this time.
Willie O’Dwyer, Ian Duggan, Simon Aylward, Joe and Liam Fennelly, John Walsh and company have the winning of this one if the desire is right.
Verdict - Mullinavat.
SHC first round in St John’s Park (5pm) - Ballyhale Shamrocks v St Patrick’s (Ballyragget).
This wouldn’t be a particularly familiar grounds for Shamrocks, but it is going to be their proving grounds now. They either perform and win, or they are gone.
The general opinion at the start of the season was that would do well, but high expectations amount to nothing without performance. A good flow to their game has escaped Shamrocks thus far.
St Patrick’s are a decent side, but injuries have messed up their season. The loss of deadly attacker, Kevin Kelly with a bad hamstring injury - he scored 10 points in his last full match - has been huge.
Still, the likes of Joe Brennan, Brian ‘Brook’ Phelan, Michael Brennan, James Gannon, Bill Staunton and other have tried manfully to plaster over the cracks. It will be an uphill struggle.
On the expectation there will be more depth this time to the Shamrocks performance we saw against Bennettsbridge last time out, we suggest T.J. Reid, Joey Holden, exciting prospect Evan Shefflin, the Mullens’ and so on can do enough to get through.
Verdict - Ballyhale Shamrocks.
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