The hunt for Mi­ley be­gins once again

Wicklow People (West Edition) - - SPORT - KIERON KENNY Sports re­porter

Rath­new

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.

Bray Em­mets

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.

Avon­dale

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.

Hol­ly­wood

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.

Eire Óg

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.

Kil­te­gan

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.

Bless­ing­ton

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.

Balt­in­glass

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.

St Pa­trick’s

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.

An­nacurra

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.

New­town

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.

AGB

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.

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