James Maher will miss the Leinster championship
As opening rounds go it wasn’t exactly a blockbuster, but it was strong and promising and the big crowds who turned out will likely have been impressed and will come back for more.
Welcome to the grand opening of the Kilkenny hurling season 2019.
At all levels, senior, intermediate and junior, the action was good, generally competitive and enticing. And the crowds attending games were strong.
This weekend fans will be looking for more of the same when the main body of round two matches are played.
That’s the general picture. From the Kilkenny senior team’s point of view, things were not quite so rosy.
The certainty is that possible full-back, Conor Delaney (Erin’s Own) is out for the entire Leinster championship.
He broke a bone in his lower leg against Danesfort, and a recovery period of around 10 weeks is being spoken about.
There was good news from the CCCC that Delaney was cleared to play in the Leinster championship after the issue regarding his one match suspension when red carded in the National League against Wexford was cleared up.
He stood down for the subsequent relegation match against Cork. That, the CCCC ruled, wrote off the one game automatic ban that followed the sending off.
Then news broke about his injury!
One of the contenders for the same role, Robbie Lannon (Bennettsbridge) is, apparently, making a strong recovery after having surgery on a problematic hip, but July is the likely time for his return.
On top of that, the chances that former Hurler of the Year, Richie Hogan, will be ready to drive into the team for the opening match against Dublin on Saturday, May 11 in Nowlan Park nosedived after he was forced to quit early in Danesfort’s match against Erin’s Own.
Hogan has been unable to train since because a long standing back injury continues to dog him.
And with James Maher (St Lachtain’s) also sure to be absent with a broken bone in his ankle, the Cats could enter the provincial campaign missing fair talent.
On a brighter note, there is encouraging talk about the ever improving fitness of last year’s captain, Cillian Buckley.
Will need luck
However, he will need a large slice of luck if he is to be ready to step back into the county team for what would be his first match at that level since July 15 last year when he and Kilkenny faced Limerick.
Dicksboro are not expecting him to be available on Friday for the clash with Erin’s Own in Clara. He last played with the club in September 2018.
Ah, you see, that is all part of the real and gripping beauty of games at this time in the season.
Fans attend matches for the entertainment, to support their favourite team, but also with an eye on what we loosely term ‘the county men’ to see how they are going.
This weekend there will be a full round of senior (6) matches and a near full programme at intermediate level (5).
There will be a break in the club action after that.
The Leinster senior championship will dominate the programme in May, with matches against Dublin (11th) and Carlow (19th).
The third outing here will be a home tie against Galway (June 9).
The third round of local league matches are in the County Board’s fixtures booklet for May 21 and 22 (Tuesday and Wednesday), so there will be a break of over a month before there is a return to club games.
Meanwhile, this weekend we have lots of promising clashes for the delectation of fans:
Erin’s Own v Dicksboro in Clara - Both opened with a win, Dicksboro over intermediate champions, Graigue-Ballycallan and Erin’s Own against Danesfort, so a second one would set them up nicely going into the break.
Erin’s Own will miss Conor Delaney, who had been a powerful performer in defence for years. The ’Boro will be without Buckley.
The ’Comer men have a decent record against their city rivals.
There is a new and determined mood in the camp following a good championship run in 2018, but if Dicksboro show the same hard edge that helped fell Graigue, they won’t be easily beaten.
Verdict - Dicksboro.
Graigue-Ballycallan v St Patrick’s in Palmerstown - St Patrick’s, with a good inside line of attack in Jack Morrissey, Michael Brennan and Joe Brennan, and with Kevin Kelly always a menace outside, have fair fire power. They hit 20 scores the last day (1-19).
One liked their no-nonsense attitude.
There was a bit of an edge to their play against the Rower-Inistioge, as there was in Graigue’s match against Dicksboro.
Don’t expect anything soft from either side here, but do expect a contest that will engage, hugely.
St Pat’s look to have the edge.
Verdict - St Patrick’s.
O’Loughlin Gaels v Ballyhale Shamrocks in John Locke Park - This looks to be the game of the weekend. If you want to meet Shamrocks and have a real chance against them, this might not be a bad time after the labours and celebrations following the All-Ireland club final.
When Clara beat them they were thrilled, but they were grounded enough to think a different day might bring a different Shamrocks.
Be assured, Shamrocks early season form won’t last.
O’Loughlin’s had an interesting look to their team when beating Mullinavat. There was good movement and so on to the play, but one couldn’t see the shape lasting; not Paddy Deegan in attack in any event.
That is a debate for another time. Mark Bergin produced his usual good quota of scores for the Gaels. Sean Bolger had an interesting role at centre-forward, and he showed up well.
They will have Huw Lawlor available, which will surely strengthen their defence. As they say, this might be a good time to face Shamrocks, and O’Loughlin’s have the quality to make good use of the opportunity.
Verdict - O’Loughlin Gaels.
James Stephens v Mullinavat in Dunnamaggin - Both lost their opening match. Neither played particularly well.
There is incentive aplenty in that for both.
John Walsh (1-8) was the main man in attack for the ’Vat the last day, and Jamie Fennelly was a good sidekick. But with only two others making the scoresheet, you have to wonder where they might turn if either or both their lead men are held.
James Stephens didn’t work as a unit when losing to Bennettsbridge. If they can get things together, they have the potential to win.
Verdict - James Stephens.
Clara v Bennettsbridge in Gowran - This would be game No. 2 from the weekend programme.
Neighbours and fierce rivals in a repeat of last year’s championship semi-final when the ’Bridge prevailed (3-19 to 2-17).
Both are cock-a-hoop after inspiring first round performances and victories. There is a determination on both sides to make this season better than last.
There is little between them. Toss a coin and say a prayer, and then guess.
How about the first draw of the campaign?
Verdict - Draw.
Rower-Inistioge v Danesfort in Thomastown - The Rower worked hard and played a nice brand of open hurling when losing two weeks ago against St Pat’s.
They were flattered, however, by a one point defeat against a team who played the closing 25 minutes with 14 men.
To be honest, they need to show a harder edge. St Pat’s bossed them physically.
Danesfort contributed to their own downfall against Erin’s Own by conceded three relatively easy goals. Take those three scores out of it and the points tally was in their favour: 0-17 to 0-14.
However, Paddy Hogan claimed 10 of those scores, and defenders Paul Murphy and Daire O’Neill contributed one each. And now with Richie Hogan absent, Danesfort shouldn’t cod themselves that bouncing back might be easy.
Where they are going to0 mine scores is the thing. Their attack showed little penetration the last day.
It won’t be easy, not even against a Rower team whose attack won’t blow away many teams.
Verdict - Rower-Inistioge.
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