Big guns collide
Tough starter for Pettitt's SHC holders
There's no prizes for guessing the big game as the Pettitt's Senior hurling championship gets under way this coming weekend, with reigning champions Shelmaliers coming up against the side they succeeded, five-in-a-row kingpins Oulart-The Ballagh, in Bellefield on Saturday at 5 p.m.
And the titleholders were dealt a severe blow in their second Senior football encounter nine days ago when stylish centre-back Clive Lawler sustained a cruciate knee injury which will keep him out for the year.
Lawler's reading of the game from the middle of the defence was one of the key factors behind the Shelmaliers success in 2014, and it won't be forgotten that their semi-final challenge against Oulart-The Ballagh fell apart twelve months earlier when he also had to depart the field owing to injury.
Colm Tynan is a new addition to the backroom team and joins the outgoing Mick Kelly and Vinny Parker, and the holders will also be minus the services of the Griffith brothers, Shane and Alan, who are both abroad.
Oulart-The Ballagh have a new manager in the widely-travelled Frank Flannery from Carrigtwohill, Co. Cork whose recent assignments included serving on Derek McGrath's backroom team in Waterford last year and guiding the Milford camogie team to two All-Ireland Senior Club titles.
He is assisted by Martin Dempsey, Alan O'Connor, Pierce Redmond, Kevin Kennedy and physical trainer Ray Harris, and by all accounts Oulart-The Ballagh are determined to lay down a strong marker and show that last year's quarter-final exit to Glynn-Barntown was merely a blip. The return of Anthony Storey from Australia increases the squad options while Lar Prendergast is also fully back in harness.
The game will also be notable for the Senior championship refereeing debut in the county of Gearóid McGrath. The former member of the Setanta club in Ballymun has handled the Dublin county final in the past and is on the inter-county panel, but he recently re-located to Wexford due to work and is now attached to St. James'.
That clash in Enniscorthy is the second of the three Group B games on Saturday, with the action beginning in Oylegate at 2 p.m. when Ferns St. Aidan's face Faythe Harriers. The game was a damp squib despite high expectations when the same sides met last year, when Ferns recorded a handy 0-14 to 1-6 victory.
The acquisition of Clonard native and ex-Tipperary and Dublin Senior trainer Ross Dunphy is a huge coup for new manager Eddie Cullen who is also assisted by Pa Byrne. Two panel members are unavailable this year, with Colin Leacy now in Dubai while Donnacha Kinsella is in Chicago.
Faythe Harriers, like their rivals, have a new backroom team comprising Niall Denton (manager), Gavin Buggy, Brian Gordon and physical trainer Mick Kelly who ironically enough was in the opposing camp for the last few seasons. Nicky Lambert won't figure due to a serious hand injury but the town team will be in a positive frame of mind after scoring 7-19 against an admittedly understrength Rapparees side in a league game on Wednesday.
With Paul Morris (knee) and Lee Chin (wrist) sustaining injuries recently, the respective camps will be hoping that these county regulars will be fit for the fray.
It promises to be an interesting hour at Ferns on Saturday at 6 p.m. for Paul Gahan. The former Buffers Alley defender guided Shamrocks to the Intermediate title after a replay with Duffry Rovers last year, and fate decreed that the Enniscorthy team's first game back in the big time would be against the club he served so well for many years on the field.
Gahan is again assisted by Derek Long, Colin Ruth and Seamus Wallace while Buffers Alley boast a new backroom team comprising former goalkeeper Seamus Kavanagh, P.J. Doran, Diarmuid O'Hanlon and Paul Doran. The Monamolin crew will be without promising teenager Ross Donohoe, a county Minor last year, who is recovering from illness.
The first of the three Group A games is in Cushinstown on Saturday at 2 p.m., with Rathnure facing St. Anne's who were so close to completing a second Senior double last year.
Darragh Ryan, Charlie White, Noel Doyle and trainer Gerry McQuaid are at the helm with the Rathangan crew again, and they will miss free-taker Kevin Whelan who is away for the year. Francis Simpson has stepped down from the Senior panel and Pierce White is injured, but on the plus side Rory Stafford has returned from the U.S.A. while Seamus Mythen is back in contention after his work commitments eased.
Seán O'Neill has returned from Australia to give Rathnure mentors Jim O'Connell (manager), Martin Byrne, Seamus Barron and Eddie Flynn (trainer) an extra option, and they will be hoping that Brendan O'Leary has fully recovered from a short-term injury.
It's on to Bree at 4.30 p.m. for the meeting of Glynn-Barntown and Cloughbawn. John Barron has returned to his native club as a selector after giving distinguished service as manager to Ferns St. Aidan's, and he is joined by Shane Carley (manager), Alan Stafford and Mick Bolger (trainer).
Brendan Doyle is away until mid-summer while Cloughbawn can welcome Eamonn Buckley back from injury. County footballer Colm Kehoe missed most of last year's campaign after going to the U.S.A. but he will be available to mentors P.J. Dempsey, Seán Flood and John Murphy.
The Senior action concludes on Sunday in Monamolin at 2 p.m. when St. Martin's meet Rapparees. Tomás Codd has returned from his stint as Wexford mentor to manage the saints and is joined by Rory McCarthy, Rúairí Quigley and Philip Murphy. Brian Kehoe, Joe Newe, Ronan Furlong and Fiacre Ryan form the Rapps' backroom team for this repeat of last year's Under-21 final which was won by St. Martin's, and many of the same players will be on view.
As an aside, it's clear that marketing the Senior championship is very low on the C.C.C's list of priorities. The absence of even one Senior double-header is a disappointment to put it mildly, and given the timing involved, the most games any supporter will be able to see over the weekend is three out of six.
In five of the six cases, the second teams from one of the competing Senior clubs will form the second part of the double bill in a lower grade game. While convenient for the clubs involved, the policy won't entice supporters out in their droves. It's another clear opportunity lost.