New Se­nior hurl­ing for­mat will be an im­prove­ment on re­cent years in Wick­low

Bray People - - SPORT -

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.

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