Tense finish to groups in store
Crunch time in club hurling
Only St. Martin's and Rapparees are sure of finishing in qualification places in Group A of the Pettitt's Senior hurling championship with the last round of fixtures to come on Saturday (3.30 p.m. throw-ins).
That May Day loss to Shelmaliers seems a long time ago now for the Piercestown-based club. They have been unbeaten since and are widely recognised to be the only team with the potential to knock Leinster champions Oulart-The Ballagh off their perch.
They will finish first in the group by beating Naomh Eanna in Bellefield and it's impossible to pick against them. Gorey have been tremendous so far but this is sure to be their biggest test to date. Indeed, the group is so tight that, theoretically, they could finish anywhere from top to bottom.
A win for Gorey books a place in the quarters, as does a draw, but a loss takes their destiny out of their own hands. One thing is for sure, Naomh Eanna can not afford to take a drubbing, as that would leave them open to the possibility of missing out or, in a disastrous turn of events, dropping to a relegation final.
One of those clubs hoping to play leap-frog with Gorey are Shelmaliers. The Hollymount side have been woeful since beating St. Martin's in their low-scoring opening game, losing three straight.
Yet this is where experience should tell. Rapparees, their opponents in Innovate Wexford Park, put in a strong showing but came up short against St. Martin's. However, the comfort of already being in the hat for the quarter-finals is a difficult feeling to brush off.
When desperation meets even the slightest hint of indifference, desperation will win through. Shelmaliers might not have the strength-in-depth to match the run of two years ago but they can certainly move to four points from five games.
Once there, they will be relying on other results to go their way. A tie with just Naomh Eanna will not fall in their favour. Should Gorey get pasted by St. Martin's, and be joined on four points by multiple teams, their +3 score difference will plummet.
A tie with multiple teams would possibly be to their benefit, as Shels -8 scoring difference would automatically best Glynn-Barntown (who would have lost and made their -10 worse), should they both finish on four points, and it's currently substantially better than St. Anne's (-33).
That game in St. Patrick's Park, between Glynn-Barntown and St. Anne's, is an interesting tie. Both need a result but a draw will do the former. St. Anne's edged Shelmaliers for their only win but they won't fear the Killurin side.
If St. Anne's do win they will be hoping Gorey achieved a miraculous victory over St. Martin's to potentially give themselves a head-to-head tie-breaker against Glynn-Barntown. However, it's hard to foresee a set of results that will grant the Rathangan side safe passage to the last eight.
Glynn-Barntown have a bit of momentum about them in both codes. They don't have the flamboyance of the other in-form side, St. Martin's, but they do have a dogged, hungry set of players. They are expected to win and prevent a four-way tie on four points, helping Gorey sneak through in fourth.
Sunday (1.30 p.m.) see Group B move to a conclusion. It's not quite as complicated as Group A but it's not far off. Two things are certain, Oulart-The Ballagh will finish first and Faythe Harriers will finish last.
Faythe Harriers will hope to find their form ahead of their relegation final but Cloughbawn know they need to win to rubber-stamp their last eight place (O'Kennedy Park). It's hard to look past the Castleboro side, given the Harriers' form this season, and they are picked to win.
A draw will also be enough for Cloughbawn but should they lose they could be drawn into a three-way tie. Their score-difference (+1) is better than Buffers Alley (-10) but worse than Rathnure (+7) and Ferns St. Aidan's (+4) as it stands. They hold the head-to-head tie-breaker with Rathnure and Ferns but would finish behind the Alley in a two-way tie.
Oulart-The Ballagh face Rathnure in Bellefield looking to end the group with a perfect record. Only a fool would back against them beating an opponent who has been in indifferent form so far this championship season.
A win or draw will send Rathnure through but the likely loss will leave them in difficulty. They will need to keep the margin down, in case it comes down to score difference. Rathnure hold the tie-breaker advantage on Buffers Alley but would be behind Ferns and Cloughbawn in a two-way tie.
The big game pits Buffers Alley against Ferns St. Aidan's in Innovate Wexford Park. A victory would qualify the winner. A draw would qualify Ferns and should be enough for Buffers Alley but, in the unlikely event that the other two matches were also draws, they would bow out on score difference.
A loss for either would leave them relying on the other games and possibly on score difference to dig them out. Ferns are pretty secure, and only a head-to-head tie with Cloughbawn would see them bow out.
Buffers Alley are in a precarious position if they lose. They hold the advantage on Cloughbawn but Rathnure would top them in a direct tie. Their score difference is also poor, in the event of a tie with more than one club.
All that being said, it's the toughest match of the weekend to call. Neither are in bad form and both are capable of winning the game. A draw would probably suit both and two evenly-matched sides are picked to play out a satisfactory tie.
Only the Shamrocks are safely through in Group A of The Courtyard Ferns Intermediate hurling championship. They are tipped to beat Rathgarogue-Cushinstown and book top spot while Ballygarrett are backed to edge Oulart-The Ballagh, meaning Askamore and Adamstown will advance regardless of the result between the two sides.
Crossabeg-Ballymurn and Oylegate-Glenbrien are both certain of being in the quarters from Group B while Blackwater are destined for the relegation final. HWH-Bunclody are tipped to hold Craanford at bay to qualify themselves and Monageer-Boolavogue.
Wins are expected for St. James' against Marshalstown-Castledockrell and Taghmon-Camross against Our Lady's Island. The pick of the round in Group A of the Top Oil Intermediate 'A' hurling championship sees Liam Mellows face Ballyfad, but both will be in the quarters with the expected winners of the other two ties.
Duffry Rovers and St. Patrick's meet to decide who will finish top of Group B. Both are already through and expect them to be joined by Fethard, although the final spot could well come down to score difference separating Buffers Alley, Rathnure and Geraldine O'Hanrahans.
Rapparees and Shelmaliers are sure to advance out of Group A of the Junior hurling championship. Gusserane can join them with a win over the latter, while Horeswood and Bannow-Ballymitty square-off with the winners guaranteeing their progression.
Tara Rocks are going through from Group B. It's possible that the other five teams will all finish with four points from five games. However, that's not likely with Clongeen and Faythe Harriers expected to see off Naomh Eanna and Ferns St. Aidan's respectively.