The hunt for Miley begins once again
The holders and favourites have a far tougher group now than it appeared on the night of the draw back in February.
After topping the league table, they then suffered two losses in the Dunne Cup play-off and are probably a bit off top form at the moment.
Having such a big contingent on county duty means it will take a little time for the team to gel and Avondale will provide a stiff opening test.
Annacurra brought them to life in 2017 and gave them a real fright. Only a fool would write them off and they will expect to qualify.
LAST TITLE: 2017 This was their 33rd title. Only failed to make the last four on two occasions in the past 25 championship campaigns. Serious consistency.
KEY PLAYERS: They have many. Their work ethic all over the field is what separates them from the pretenders.
There is a feeling in many parts that the hunger may be diminishing a bit down ‘The Village’ way but writing them off would be a foolish prediction.
KEY GAME: They all appear tough on paper but their last group game against Eire Óg could be vital. They will get stronger with every game.
A nightmare 2017 for Bray has meant that not too many look on them as worthy challengers.
They survived in senior ranks after some heavy defeats in the championship proper 2017.
Brian O’Keeffe has introduced plenty of young talent to the team and despite losing their place in Division 1 they were competitive in every game with some good results.
The fact the senior hurling championship has fewer games in 2018 could further help their cause with dual player issues. Could be a surprise packet.
LAST TITLE: 1935. Lost the final after a replay to Rathnew in 2003 and haven’t been back since. Exited at group stage in 2017.
KEY PLAYERS: Marc Lennon, Cathal Magee and Adam Dixon are sharp and speedy forwards.
The Lohans are fine athletic defenders while the McCormack brothers along with Diarmuid Masterson have added a new attacking dimension.
Add in Des Kelly, Niall McGraynor and Johnny Kinch and there will be plenty to worry teams.
KEY GAME: Their opener with Kiltegan will be vital to a young team needing confidence and with a derby game up second with Eire Óg early rounds could decide their fate.
Last year’s semi-finalists Avondale will fancy their chances of at least matching and possibly going one better in 2018.
The return of Conor McGraynor will further strengthen Emmet Sullivan’s hand and he possibly has at his disposal the best group of players in Avondale since the 1980’s.
A hurling championship will also be in their sights and if anybody can manage the needs of a dual club it will be Sullivan, this could be fundamental in a busy early season calendar.
LAST TITLE: Beaten by Blessington in the semi-final last year in a game that they learned massively from both on and off the field.
Were regulars in the last four all through the 80’s but could never make the breakthrough and have the potential to do so soon.
KEY PLAYERS: The addition of two McGraynors in 2018 can only be a help, Conor returning and Oisin progressing from underage ranks but key to their success will be keeping the injury list clean.
Conor Byrne has the potential to be one of the best forwards around and the talented Baker boys David and the also returned Eoin could make them a dark horse.
Eugene Dunne and Barry Sheehan are still central to their game plan.
KEY GAME: They will face Kiltegan in their second game of the group and regardless of their result with Rathnew in the opener this is the sort of game that has tripped them up in the past.
The intermediate champions of 2017 have continued to improve and progress in 2018.
A good run in Leinster was followed by a fine league performance which included wins over Blessington, Baltinglass and Rathnew, not bad for a team settling back in to senior ranks.
Reward came with topping the league and some silverware. They have the right mix of experience and youth in their panel and are renowned championship battlers.
LAST TITLE: An agonising loss in the Millennium final will always be talked about in Hollywood.
They had a golden generation of players around that time but never claimed the ultimate prize. Will ask plenty of questions along the way.
KEY PLAYERS: Harry Wilson is a strong full back and the spine of their team is solid.
Ciaran Tyrrell is the real driving force around the middle.
The Kellys are pacey while PJ O’Keeffe will have benefitted from his inter county game time.
Mikie Healy was immense in 2017 while Tony Hannon and Tom Burke are as dangerous today as ever they were.
KEY GAME: First round tussle with Eire Óg will be vital. A team that can shine when confidence is high and one of the best around to build momentum in a championship.
The nearly men on many occasions of late come in to battle in 2018 very quietly.
Relegation to Division 1A for 2018 has afforded them the opportunity to blood some young players in.
Injuries to key players will be a worry but the emergence of Fintan O’Shea, Sean Lawless and Cian O’Flaherty as regulars is a real positive.
Could they benefit from a more relaxed early season?
LAST TITLE: Their departure from championship 2017 to Baltinglass brought plenty of discussion and debate all over the country. They will be itching to show what they can do when the cards are dealt fairly.
KEY PLAYERS: Darren Hayden is still one of the top players in Wicklow and his midfield partnership with Danny Woods is one of the best around.
Stephen Kelly is playing as well as ever in the half back line, but they need more from the younger players to really kick on.
Daniel Keane now fit and flying will carry a lot of their attacking threat.
The champions of ten years ago they have failed to reach the same heights since.
Their only wins in 2018 have come against Baltinglass twice in league action.
Another club who rise to championship season nobody gets anything easy from them.
An influx of youth last year could see benefits this year and if they get out of the group they will be a danger.
Trevor Doyle has them coming to form at the right time and they will be a threat.
LAST TITLE: 2008. Exited at the quarter final stage in 2017 after coming through the group with four wins over AGB, Tinahely Bray and Blessington.
KEY PLAYERS: When they have Seanie Furlong on form they have a real chance in every game.
Rory Finn has few equals around the middle still. Cathal Fitzgerald would like an injury free year while Adam Wynne, Liam Keogh, Aaron Byrne and Padraig O’Toole are settled now and regulars.
KEY GAME: The opener with Bray is crucial.
No better team around to grind out championship wins when needed and a good start could set them up for a real assault at Rathnew’s crown in 2018.
Last year’s beaten finalists are many peoples pick for Miley success in 2018.
They look to be well set up for a serious assault at Rathnew’s crown with the most talented squad in the county at their disposal.
Unlike many other years they had a small contingent on county duty and this will mean they come in to action with a very settled team.
Annacurra will test them to the limit in the opener on Saturday.
LAST TITLE: 1983. Made it to the final in 2017 their first appearance in a final since 1988 and ran Rathnew very close.
KEY PLAYERS: Anthony McLoughlin looks to be in top form playing in a more forward role in 2018.
He has been notching some impressive tallies in league action and could be the missing pat of the jigsaw.
The returning Wayne Callaghan
and Dean Siney have further strengthened their hand.
KEY GAME: The opener will be a real test but the last two games are against Baltinglass and St Patrick’s so little margin for error early on.
The champions in 2016 were very disappointed at how they relinquished their title.
Losing to great rivals Rathnew in the semi-final will have hurt them and Ciaran Walsh used the league to blood plenty of new players.
They are forever producing top quality players in Baltinglass and have players still in their team with a couple of championship medals to guide them along.
LAST TITLE: 2016 They have taken home the honours on 22 occasions and that fact alone shows the tradition is abundant.
They had plenty of lads playing well against Kilcoole in the Division 3 league final who could feature in senior ranks yet in 2018.
KEY PLAYERS: Mark Jackson is the name that has been on many peoples lips already this year and his ability to kick long range frees makes him vital to their cause.
They will try find the right blend of youth and experience and Billy Cullen, Ian Sheerin, Jason Kennedy, Sean O’Brien and John McGrath are key figures.
KEY GAME: Opening with a game against St Pat’s will tell us a lot about where both are in terms of fitness and timing.
Their last game is against Blessington and if either slip up along the way this one could be massive.
Casey O’Brien in his second year in charge has already landed the Dunne Cup and they looked good beating Blessington in the final even if the game wasn’t quite fought out at championship pace.
LAST TITLE: 2012. They bowed out to Blessington in the quarter final in 2017 having looked like they were building nicely towards a tilt at the title.
KEY PLAYER: Keeping Tommy Kelly fit will be massive.
He has had enough bad luck with injuries the past couple of years to do him a lifetime.
If he is flying and Stephen Duffy is on song they will pose problems.
Simon Bouchier has settled in well in a new look half back line where Conor Ffrench is dominating games from.
KEY GAME: Playing Baltinglass firstly like in 2017 will have them ready to go.
The fact they play Annacurra six days later will be huge test early doors for them too.
They have proved over the past few years that there are few better teams at performing when it really matters on championship days.
A semi-final appearance in 2015 was well merited and they had Rathnew on the rack last year so while many will be tipping the trio of Blessington, St Pat’s and Baltinglass to come out of this group the Derrysiders are well capable of upsetting the odds at any time.
LAST TITLE: 1931. Made the final in 1990 but met Baltinglass the best club team in the land at the time who were unstoppable.
Rathnew eventually saw them off in 2017 after a replay but they recovered to land the Keating Trophy.
KEY PLAYERS: Alan Byrne is still one of their most important players but the emergence of Gearoid Murphy in 2017 and his progression to John Evans senior team is remarkable.
Frank Clune, Martin O’Brien and Ian McDonald are others who have seen county action while Mick O’Brien, Paul McDonald, Liam Moules and the Horan brothers are strong on championship days.
KEY GAME: They have the most unenviable set of fixtures anywhere in Wicklow championships for 2018.
They will have played Blessington, St Pat’s and Baltinglass all in the space of 12 days!
If their squad is strong and stays injury free they could be in a very healthy position on July 26th.
The Magpies are building nicely again. Decimated with injuries the past couple of years they come in to championship action after landing the Division 2 league title.
A fine blend of youth and experience will test the mettle of all in the group.
Shane Mooney missed last year’s campaign with a knee injury and his return is a huge boost to John Lynch’s team.
LAST TITLE: 1975. They bowed out at the group stage in 2017 but it could have been so different if they had started with a win over Avondale.
KEY PLAYERS: The pace of Ross Davis, Declan Doyle, Sean Gregory and Conor Odlum will worry teams while Dean Odlum has recovered from his achilles injury.
Ross Odlum and Cathal McNicholas have also returned. Bobby Grennan, Neil Martin and Darren Walsh are classy defenders with Mark Fitzsimons and Paul O’Riordan a strong centre field pairing.
KEY GAME: No doubting the first game v AGB is massive.
A win here could give their young players a surge of confidence and belief.
They will trouble all-comers regardless and always fight right to the end.
They have settled back to senior football with little fuss.
A brilliant display against Blessington in the group stage in 2017 was one of the performances of the summer.
They too are blessed with some really talented players with youth on their side.
They were resolute in the league final draw against Tinahely despite being short a whopping eight or their first team.
If the injuries have healed up they could surprise a few again in 2018.
LAST TITLE: They were very disappointed to bow out at quarter final stage in 2017 and possibly underestimated Avondale a little that day. They will look to put things right in 2018.
KEY PLAYERS: Philip Healy is still one of the top marksmen around. Ciaran Hyland and Philip Gleeson are struggling with an injury and Darragh Fitzgerald is also a doubt. JP Hurley is maturing well as a midfielder and Chris O’Brien is having a great year.
The pace of Cathal Kelleher, Peter Hempenstall and Cormac O’Shea will worry teams while Mervyn Travers is still calling the shots from the goal.
Back, from left: Des Hilley, Bray; Billy Cullen, Baltinglass; Darren Hayden, Eire Og Greystones; Mick O’ Brien, Annacurra; Blaine Harmon, Kiltegan and Conor Mc Graynor, Avondale. Front, from left: Ciaran Tyrrell, Hollywood; Anto Mc Loughlin, Blessington; John Evans, Martin Fitzgerald, Eddie Doyle, Rathnew and Stephen Boylan, Blessington.
Martin Fitzgerald with a mountain of silverware.