NEARY TO THE BONE Leinster League is of huge benefit to Wicklow hurling clubs
LAST WEDNESDAY evening I spent an enjoyable couple of hours in the highly impressive venue that is Bray Emmets GAA Club.
The reason for my visit was the Leinster Club Division 2 semi-final between the host club Bray and Carnew and an opportunity to run my eye over 14 or so county under-21 hurlers involved with both panels.
I have a special affiliation with this competition as around six years ago both myself and Lester Ryan came up with the idea to run such a league.
Aware of the limited number of teams playing hurling at various adult grades it became an excellent opportunity for Wicklow clubs to play teams from other Leinster counties in a competitive environment.
At this time of the year with local competitions ongoing and players involved with county squads it has, at times, been difficult for clubs to get their best teams out.
It has now become a very important part of clubs' early season preparation. The numbers of clubs taking part has remained consistent and in fact the Division 1 section this year now contains nearly all the top clubs in Leinster and remains a very prestigious competition to win.
It is also an excellent opportunity for clubs to build links not just with their adult sections but also juvenile sections of clubs from outside their own county. The vastly improved network of roads in Leinster makes for easy access to play new teams.
In predominantly football clubs some hurling teams would not get a window to play games until much later in the year if they didn't enter this competition.
I know, to my cost, how difficult it can be to get challenge games and once you say you are involved with a Wicklow club it can be even more of a hindrance.
That's why the Leinster League has been such a valuable tool for Wicklow clubs as it provides a window for them to show outside teams how capable they are and their devotion to the game.
This year Bray, St. Pat's and Kiltegan have qualified respectively for Division 2, 3 and 4 finals. I predict if these three clubs are in a position to put out their strongest teams they will each win their respective division and in turn qualify to play in a higher division next year.
It is great to see Kiltegan back again hurling regularly and these games should improve their performances in the SHC.
Over the years they have produced some tremendous hurlers for both club and county. The fact that one of the best centre-half forwards I have ever witnessed and that Wicklow has ever produced, John O'Toole, is still playing and scoring is a remarkable testament to the great man himself.
With their excellent Feile squad on the up and the great work being done at underage in the club hopefully it won't be too long before Kiltegan are back contending for Senior hurling titles.
At last Wednesday's game neither Bray or Carnew were at full strength. Both management teams used the match to try out new players and/or reward players who had helped them reach the semifinal.
This was an enjoyable and entertaining game played in an excellent spirit and well refereed by an outside referee (something I am a big believer in).
Carnew had the superior start to the game and scored two valuable early goals, one an opportunist strike from the newly promoted Senior player, Padraig Doran, and the second a long range free from Don Hyland which went all the way to the Bray net.
New manager, John Henderson, will be disappointed with the easy concession of both goals and will be aware improvement is needed in this area. Carnew had the assistance of a sizeable breeze and will be disappointed to have thrown up seven or eight easy point scoring opportunities.
In the first half John Henderson Jnr. was a colossus at centre-back. He was everywhere, covering the whole backline, his first touch and strength were most impressive.
Christy Moorehouse gave the best performance I have ever witnessed from him. Sometimes Christy can be somewhat inconsistent and doesn't perform to his undoubted ability for a whole game but not this time.
His goal was the score of the night. He even successfully took over the free-taking duties when the usually reliable Mickey Lee was having a rare off night.
Others to impress me on the night for Bray were Jim Doyle, his younger brother Padraig and the speedy Mark Lennon. I envisage Mark causing huge problems for lots of defenders this year.
Carnew will be disappointed not to have won this game having been six points up in the second half especially after the introduction of some of their more established players Oisin Doyle, Sean Kinsella and Liam Kennedy.
Andrew Hughes and John Doyle will be pleased with their performances. TJ Hennessy had a very strong first half and converted an excellent penalty when called upon but was less influential in the second half.
Don Hyland's free-taking and opportunism from open play was excellent and he was desperately unlucky to see a 20 yard pile driver miss the net by the smallest of margins.
This game has certainly whet the appetite for later this year and with the quality of players missing from both teams on the night the standard of play should be even higher when they meet again.