Hurlers ready to go toe to toe with Mourne men
Some injuries but newcomers ready for action
Wicklow v Down Bray - Sunday - 2pm Casey O'Brien gets his new hurling season under way with a match against Down in the Kehoe Cup at the new complex in Bray on Sunday.
All through the years matches between Wicklow and Down have been close and extremely hard fought, and it dose not appear to matter much who has the home venue. Wicklow have got results in places like Portaferry, Ballygalget, Ballycran or even on one occasion in Ballykinlar. On other occasions we have lost to the Mourne men in Arklow or Aughrim.
So the fact that we have them on home soil will be of little help when the chips are down.
Reports from the training camp are most encouraging. Good numbers at all sessions and the new trainer Trevor Doyle appears to be getting a great response. Casey has added quite a number of newcomers to his panel this year and is hopeful of making a 'find' or two.
Of course the old reliable are still there - all with unfinished business to attend too. They have came close to lifting the Christy Ring cup on a few occasions under the St Patrick's club man and are back to have one more go this year.
That is further down the road and for the moment the Kehoe cup would do nicely for starters.
Jonathan O'Neill, who has been the inspired leader in recent years is still there. So is Geoffrey Bermingham (inset), a great defender with a flare for adding the odd point when the occasion demands. Andy O'Brien, they tell me is training like never before while Graham Keogh is still going strong.
No team was selected at the close or training on Monday night but the selectors were still hoping to have the bulk of the players that contested the Christy Ring Cup final last year. That team lined out as follows - Joe Murphy; Jim Connors, Graham Keogh, Billy Cuddihy; John Henderson, Stephen Kelly, Geffrey Bermingham; Ronan Keddy, Eamonn Kearns; Tommy Doyle, Wayne O'Gorman, Eugene Dunne; Enan Glynn, Jonathan O'Neill, and Andy O'Brien. The subs used that day were Eoin O'Neill, Liam Kennedy and Christy Moorhouse.
Others on that panel were Keith Snell, John Connors, Peter Keane, Aaron Murphy, Gino Fuscardi, Paul Gahan, James Kelly and Niall Toolis. Patrick Farrell, who plays his club hurling in Wexford and Harry Stephenson are also on that panel and are some of the players now returned to training.
Recovering from injury at the moment are Joe Murphy, John Henderson, Stephen Kelly, Liam Kennedy and Eamonn Kearns. Kearns is Casey's biggest worry at the present; the big midfielder pulled up in training on Sunday and now looks very doubtful. Newcommers on the panel this year include - Eoin Masion and Mikie Lee (Bray E); Ronan Byrne (Kiltegan), Brian Osbourne (Carnew) Cian Kelly, Aaron Nugent, Gav in Ware, Daniel Staunton, Warren Kavanagh (Glenealy) Shane Nolan (Eire Og). Shane Byrne and Shane McGrath (Avondale). Down are now trained by Waterford star Paul Flynn and will be no push over. However Casey has prepared well for this match and is more hat hopfull of making a winning start to the year.
Emmet Sullivan has replaced Jim Bob Doyle on the selection committee and is the third generation of the family to hold that post.
Paddy Sullivan was there for many years while John also became a selector when he finally hung up his boots.
In fact I remember one famous day when he travelled as a Selector to Monaghan, selected the team but when a player cried off he was persuaded to take his place on the starting 15.
Then no referee showed up and both sides agreed to go ahead with the match provided John refereed it - so he ended up filling three positions on the one day.
The Hastings Cup may have slipped through our fingers but Damien Byrne, Ronny Phillips and Pat Wogan are still hopeful they can lift the Shield. They make the long trip to Johnstown in Roscommon to take on the home side in a match that should decide which team makes it through to the final.
This is a nice little U-21 team but the problem appears to be getting out at full strength on a Saturday. A number of players have weekend jobs and find it very difficult to get time off. The team has trained well under David Behan of Blessington and are in good shape. They are not short of match practice this year between friendly matches, the Carlow Tournament and now this Hastings Cup. They are also escaping injury fairly well with dual player John Henderson the only one out at the moment.
They will need to be at full strength for this match, and that means having Conor McGraynor available. The Avondale giant was in Longford last week but was under orders from DCU not to play. With that college out of the running in the O'Byrne Cup that ban may be lifted this week - at least that is what we are hoping for
According to joint manager Damien Byrne their reason for entering the two tournaments was to get match practice, not to win trophies. Still it would be nice to get one more match in this high profile tournament and with a full turn out and a smile from lady Luck we could do just that.
On the home front Ashford and Valleymount battle it out to hold on to their place in Division 2 of the SFL at Roundwood on Sunday.
Over in the West the winder League continues with matches at three venues. Kiltegan is the odd team out this week because their opponents Valleymount are fighting for survival in another grade up in Roundwood.