New Senior hurling format will be an improvement on recent years in Wicklow
IT is hard to believe that this weekend sees the start of the Senior hurling championship.
With only six teams participating this year it is very difficult to get a meaningful competition while providing sufficient games.
I am confident that the new format for 2016 will be an improvement on recent years. With the top two teams after the group stages going directly to the semi-finals and the remaining four teams entering the quarter-finals we will hopefully have competitive and meaningful games right up to the last round.
With the team that finishes third in the league eventually playing the sixth placed team and the fourth and fifth placed teams playing each other I am sure all teams will want to be placed as high up as possible in the league.
The six participating teams will be hoping that their preparations to date will be reflected in their performances as a good start will no doubt set teams up to finish well placed in the league.
The first game of the SHC next Sunday will see last year’s semi-finalists Eire Og take on Avondale.
2015 was an excellent year for Eire Og which saw them reaching the semi-finals where they ultimately fell short to Bray, but not before pushing the champions, especially in the opening half.
The fact that Eire Og have eight players who were part of Martin Storey’s panel this year highlights the talent that they have at their disposal.
Defensively they are very strong with county keeper, Dan O’Neill, very difficult to breach and ably supported by four other county defenders.
In Stephen Kelly they have possibly the best man marker in the county and he will be given the task of keeping any opposing team’s danger man quiet.
In the forward sector they need their players to play to their full potential as last year in the bigger games they struggled somewhat.
However, with their younger county players such as Anto Byrne, James Cranley and Danny and Shane Nolan now a year older they will be expecting an even bigger contribution.
Avondale had a difficult 2015 and to address this they appointed former county player and selector Emmet O’Sullivan as their hurling manager.
This is Emmet’s first sojourn into club management but he will have benefitted greatly from playing under many excellent managers whilst a player in with Carnew.
Emmet will be pleased with the progress they made in the Leinster league where they reached the semi-final, however, he will know that there is work to do before they close the gap on the big three.
In Tom Finn, Shane Byrne, Eugene Dunne, Eamon Kearns, Paul Gahan and Ray Nolan they have the strong foundations for the backbone of a solid competitive team.
This is a big game for both teams so early in the competition and will have a bearing on where they both finish in the league section.
With five county defenders available to Eire Og, I believe the Avondale attack will have difficulty getting enough scores to win this game and I predict an important first win for the Greystones outfit.
St. Pat’s and Glenealy is the first game in an attractive double bill on Sunday evening in Aughrim.
I have a personal interest in this game having taken over as manager of the Wicklow town club in January.
As a former manager of Glenealy I am fully aware of the undoubted strengths of the hurling aristocrats and former champions.
Glenealy will be desperately disappointed not to have reached last year’s final and will have addressed the reasons why and will come back this year fully focussed. The addition of former Clare star, Stephen McNamara, and former St Pat’s player, Michéal Gavin, to their management team is a measure of their intent.
With all their players available to them I believe that they are the biggest threat to Bray’s crown. Glenealy’s younger players Danny Staunton, Warren Kavanagh, Gavin Weir, Aaron Nugent, John Manley and the twin Byrnes, Emmet and Jamie, are beginning to show their undoubted talent and are now playing major roles within the team and when you blend in the experienced players like the Glynns, the O’Neills, Wayne O’Gorman, Tommy Doyle and Robert Byrne they have a very formidable outfit.
St Pat’s were also disappointed with 2015 and will, at the very least, want to get back to being competitive in this year’s championship.
In Eoghan O’Mahony they have a reliable keeper. John Connors, Sean O’Callaghan, Gerry Connors and Chris Kavanagh will have to be at their defensive best against a pacey and very dangerous forward line.
St Pat’s will be looking for a good showing from former county star, Andy O’Brien, and Glenealy will be aware of Andy’s threat and will no doubt have a plan in place to nullify this.
St. Pat’s will be looking to the likes of George O’Brien, James Byrne, David Bury and Christy Moorehouse to support Andy in the scoring department.
I will, of course, be looking for St. Pat’s to be competitive as we commence our programme of games, however, anything other than a Glenealy victory will be a surprise.
The big game of the weekend will see a repeat of last year’s final between Bray and Carnew.
Former county manager, Casey O’Brien, has taken over the reins in Carnew. This game is probably coming a bit early for Carnew.
With practically all their team being dual players they will have spent a considerable amount of time playing football and their impressive run in Division 2 of the league confirms this.
Sunday’s game will give Casey an opportunity to see where his new team is at and what improvements, if any, are needed should they meet again later in the season.
Bray too had eight players on this year’s county panel and importantly all of them saw significant game time. Throw in the fact that they reached the final of Division 2 of the Leinster league together with their progress in the Dublin League one would expect them to be ready and prepared to commence the defence of their title.
It will be interesting to see some of the match-ups employed by the respective managers.
Christy Moorehouse caused Carnew lots of problems in last year’s final and I wonder to whom Carnew will give this difficult responsibility.
The three Bray players on the county football squad may be playing catch-up when it comes to their hurling skills but time will sort this out.
Carnew have some excellent young players in their ranks this year such as Padraig Doran, Andrew Hughes, Wayne Kinsella, Drew Brennan, Dan Nolan, Enda Donughue, Jack Doyle, Dean Grandy, Dean Barnes, Conal and Brendan McCrea and Oisin Furlong and it will be interesting to see how many of these players will force their way on to the Senior setup.
I envisage a Bray victory but it will be an occasion where Carnew can go out and hurl with no inhibitions and see where it takes them.
A brilliant weekend for juvenile hurling in Wicklow with the success of the county Under-17s and Féile teams from Michael Dwyers, Carnew Emmets and Luke O’Toole’s.
Congratulations to all involved – proud occasions for the players, the clubs and their parents.