Niall Kenny and Borris-Ileigh will be hoping to build on their terrific 2017 season when Johnny Kelly's men were crowned North Tipperary champions.
Can anyone stop Thurles Sarsfields from winning a fifth successive county senior hurling championship title?
Following a significant delay the county senior hurling championship is ready to get underway with defending champions Thurles Sarsfields chasing a fifth successive Dan Breen Cup.
On October 8th the Blues cruised to their 36th county senior hurling title thanks to a comfortable 1-24 to 0-11 county final win over Borris-Ileigh. And, the style of the Blues’ comprehensive victory begs the question: who gets to lose the 2018 final to Thurles Sarsfields?
The draw, however, for the Tipperary Water-sponsored County Senior Hurling Championship never fails to capture the imagination. And, this year is no different with the respective groups presenting us with plenty of tantalising ties.
Three rounds of games will be played with the top two teams progressing to the knock-out stage of the competition from each four-team group. There is a potential need for a series of preliminary quarter-finals if a divisional champion has not progressed to the knock-out stage of the county championship via the round robin stage of the competition.
The group winners will be seeded in the quarter-finals with repeat pairings avoided where possible while the bottom four teams in the respective groups will battle it out to see which two teams are relegated to Roinn II.
ROINN I GROUP THREE
Thurles Sarsfields, the defending champions, will launch their campaign on Saturday, April 14th against Carrick Swans in Littleton (4.30pm).
The Sars will be managed by Séamus Quinn this season and coached by Eoin Kelly (Mullinahone). Quinn, of course, guided the Blues to the Munster crown in 2012 and is well capable of delivering yet another county title for Sars. Although Carrick suffered some heavy defeats during the group stage of the 2017 championship the Swans regrouped to win the Clonmel Oil South Tipperary Senior Hurling Championship when beating Killenaule (1-13 to 0-14) in the decider.
Unfortunately it is hard to see Carrick Swans getting anything out of this contest.
Also on Saturday, April 14th Drom & Inch and Upperchurch-Drombane meet in a potential cracker at Templetuohy (6pm).
In 2017 Drom & Inch endured a mixed year before losing out to Borris-Ileigh in the county semi-finals (1-12 to 1-16). The club has appointed Séamus Kennedy as manager while Mullagh's John Mullins is coaching the side.
The Upperchurch-Drombane lads lost the 2017 Mid Tipperary Senior Hurling Championship final to Thurles Sarsfields by a point (2-10 to 1-14). Manager John Ryan and coach Séamus Gleeson (Kiladangan) have returned for the 2018 campaign with Upperchurch getting a tentative nod in this one.
ROINN I GROUP ONE
Both games in group one take place on Sunday, April 15th - Mullinahone face Clonoulty at Leahy Park, Cashel (2pm) while Nenagh Éire Óg and Roscrea collide in Dolla (2.30pm).
Defending West champions Clonoulty progressed as far as the last eight in 2017 before suffering defeat at the hands of Drom & Inch (1-14 to 2-26) - former player John Devane has taken up the reins as manager this season.
Mullinahone lost out at the quarter-final stage in 2017 to Éire Óg Annacarty (1-15 to 2-13). And, Kildare man Fintan O'Connor has stepped into the breach left by Paul Curran as manager.
The meeting of Clonoulty-Rossmore and Mullinahone makes for an attractive prospect with the West men fancied to get the win.
John Fitzgerald (Na Piarsaigh, Limerick) has been appointed as Nenagh Éire Óg manager. Éire Óg limped through the 2017 campaign and suffered heavy defeats before also losing out to Borris-Ileigh in the North final (0-18 to 2-19).
Éire Óg’s form will have to improve significantly should they hope to get the better of a Roscrea team who lost the replayed final of the Séamus Ó Riain Cup to Toomevara (0-12 to 2-18) in 2017, but they did enjoy a really progressive year. Roscrea have recruited ex-Laois player Niall Rigney as manager and will hope to make a significant impact especially since they are already out of the North championship following a 1-11 to 0-16 defeat suffered at the hands of Toomevara.
ROINN I GROUP TWO
Two games take place on Sunday, April 15th in group two - Éire Óg Annacarty take on Killenaule in Leahy Park, Cashel (3.30pm) while Kilruane MacDonagh's meet Toomevara in Dolla (1pm).
Ollie Kelly has been re-appointed as Éire Óg Annacarty manager for the 2018 season. Ultimately Éire Óg lost out to Sarsfields in the county semi-finals (0-18 to 0-27), but there is no doubting the fact that Kelly has plenty of raw material to work with.
Sunday Game star and former Kilkenny legend Eddie Brennan was recruited in a consultant training role with Killenaule while Declan Ryan manages the team.
Killenaule missed out on the knock-out stages of the county championship in 2017 and also lost the South final to Carrick Swans. So, considering the talent available to the Robins they will be hoping to make a more significant impact this year.
Killenaule could get off to a winning start here.
Kilruane presented champions Thurles Sarsfields with a significant fright in the 2017 quarter-finals when the Blues required extra-time to prevail (3-26 to 1-22).
The MacDonagh's will be led by manager Liam O'Shea while Ballinahinch's Cormac McGrath coaches the side.
Toomevara enjoyed a really encouraging season in 2017 when the Greyhounds won the replayed Séamus Ó Riain Cup final in great style and duly booked their place in Roinn I. Indeed, joint-managers Denis Kelly and Tommy Dunne have done some great work with an emerging bunch of players.
This contest could be turn out to be a thriller with Kilruane MacDonagh’s getting the nod, barely.
ROINN I GROUP FOUR
The meeting of Loughmore-Castleiney and Kiladangan gets group four underway on Saturday, April 14th in Templederry (6pm) while on Sunday, April 15th Portroe face Borris-Ileigh in Nenagh (6.45pm).
Declan Laffan returns as manager of a Loughmore-Castleiney team which lost out in 2017 to Borris-Ileigh in the county championship quarter-finals (1-17 to 1-18). Loughmore suffered a comprehensive (and surprising) 0-21 to 3-22 defeat at the hands of Upperchurch in the Mid semi-finals and are sure to be on a mission to make up for lost time in 2018.
Kiladangan struggled to locate their best form in 2017 and found themselves knocked out of the county championship during the group phase. This season Kiladangan are managed by Gary Byrne (Holycross-Ballycahill). Unfortunately, Kiladangan are down a number of key players due to injury and such casualties may well swing this contest in Loughmore’s favour.
Manager Johnny Kelly (Portumna) has returned to guide the fortunes of a Borris-Ileigh team which lost the 2017 county final to Thurles Sarsfields (0-11 to 1-24), but the North champions did enjoy a terrific year.
Club stalwart Dinny Hogan will manage the Portroe senior hurlers in 2018 alongside coach Tommy Guilfoyle (Feakle, Clare). Portroe struggled to locate their best form in 2017, but managed to maintain their Roinn I status courtesy of a draw with Clonoulty-Rossmore (1-19 to 0-22).
You would have to fancy Borris-Ileigh to get off to a winning start here.
ROINN II - SÉAMUS Ó RIAIN CUP
Similarly to 2017 this year’s Séamus Ó Riain Cup (Roinn II) finalists will be promoted to Roinn I in time for the 2019 hurling championship.
The Séamus Ó Riain Cup comprises of twelve teams - three seeded groups of four.
Following three rounds of games the top two group winners qualify for the semi-finals while the remaining group winner and three runners-up battle it out in the quarter-finals (repeat pairings avoided where possible).
There will be no relegation from the Séamus Ó Riain Cup in 2018 and six games take place in the Séamus Ó Riain Cup this weekend with Holycross-Ballycahill and the Templederry Kenyons favoured to make a big impact on this year's competition.
ROINN II - GROUP ONE
On Sunday, April 15th in group one Burgess face JK Bracken's in Toomevara (5pm) while St Mary's Clonmel take on South rivals Ballingarry in Davin Park (6pm).
Burgess have plumbed for former Kilruane MacDonagh's man and noted referee Pat Gibson as manager while Adare's Paul Keane is coaching the team. A 2017 play-off defeat suffered at the hands at Kiladangan condemned Burgess to Roinn II hurling while Templederry (1-11 to 2-13) brought their North campaign to an end.
Jim Mullen, Wes Morrissey, Damien McBride and John Lillis (Thurles Sarsfields) remain in place as the management team to guide the fortunes of JK Bracken’s. In 2017 JK Bracken’s lost out to Upperchurch-Drombane in the Mid championship before Toomevara proved a bridge too far for them (3-14 to 2-24) in the last four of the Séamus Ó Riain Cup.
With a raft of underage talent maturing nicely the Mid men could prove a threat this season and must be fancied to beat Burgess.
Meanwhile the contest between St Mary’s and Ballingarry should prove more than interesting.
The 2017 county intermediate champions St Mary’s Clonmel are managed by Michael Ryan (Waterford) and coached by Tony Shelly. And, it will be very interesting to see how St Mary's progress given the level of underage talent pouring through the club in recent years.
In 2017 Ballingarry extricated themselves from that tight relegation corner at the expense of Knockavilla Kickhams and Borrisokane. This season Kevin O’Sullivan (Cashel King Cormacs) has taken up the reins, but Ballingarry could struggle against an enthusiastic St Mary’s team.
ROINN II - GROUP TWO
Two games take place in group two on Sunday, April 15th - Silvermines face Templederry Kenyons in Nenagh (5.15pm) while Clonakenny collide with Newport in Toomevara (6.30pm).
Toomevara's Eoin Brislane returns for a second season in charge of a highly-talented and dedicated Templederry team. The Kenyons suffered cruel heartache in 2017 - they lost a Séamus Ó Riain Cup quarter-final to Roscrea (2-19 to 4-19) and also agonizingly lost out to eventual champions Borris-Ileigh in a North championship semi-final (0-20 to 2-16). As a result Templederry will be one of the favourites to earn promotion to Roinn I this season.
Thurles Sars’ Garry Mernagh has taken over as manager-coach with Silvermines. Mernagh, of course, coached Thurles Sarsfields to a Munster title in 2012.
The ‘Mines are sure to benefit from the experience of the Thurles man, but you would have to fancy Templederry to beat Silvermines here. After all the Kenyons saw them off in the 2017 opening round as well (0-19 to 1-13). The match-up on Jason Forde, of course, could have a significant impact on proceedings.
Borrisokane's Vincent McKenna has returned to the helm in Clonakenny - Vincent coached Clonakenny to a famous county intermediate title in 2015.
In 2017 Clonakenny beat Borrisokane and drew with JK Bracken’s in the Séamus Ó Riain Cup while they lost heavily to Loughmore-Castleiney (0-4 to 0-27) in a Mid quarter-final before facing defeat once more against Holycross-Ballycahill (2-14 to 2-18) in a Séamus Ó Riain Cup quarter-finals.
Mark Harrington returns as manager of Newport while Paul Sexton will coach the side. Last year in the group stage of the Séamus Ó Riain Cup Newport lost to Toomevara and Roscrea reasonably heavily, but an opening day victory over Ballingarry (3-14 to 0-12) secured their status. Newport also lost to Kiladangan (0-10 to 1-21) up North. There is a sense that Newport will have benefitted greatly from their 2017 experience, but you would still have to fancy Clonakenny to prevail here.
ROINN II - GROUP THREE
On Saturday, April 14th in group three Ballina take on Holycross-Ballycahill in Borrisoleigh (6pm) while on Sunday, April 15th Lorrha-Dorrha face Moycarkey-Borris in Roscrea (6pm).
Meelick-Eyrecourt's Mark Dunne leads a Lorrha-Dorrha team which lost to JK Bracken’s (2-16 to 2-19) in the 2017 Séamus Ó Riain Cup quarter-finals - a group stage win over Knockavilla Kickhams propelled Lorrha into the last eight following a defeat suffered at the hands of Holycross-Ballycahill.
Up North Lorrha lost to Templederry first day out (1-14 to 0-23) so they will be hoping for an improved showing this term.
Moycarkey-Borris endured a tough campaign in Roinn II last year before finding themselves embroiled in a relegation battle - Moycarkey extricated themselves from that tight corner at the expense of Knockavilla Kickhams and Borrisokane.
If Moycarkey-Borris get their house in order you would fancy them to get the better of Lorrha.
Michael Ferncombe’s Holycross-Ballycahill came undone, surprisingly, against Roscrea (0-20 to 3-14) in the 2017 Séamus Ó Riain Cup semi-finals, but must be favoured to make a big impact on the competition this year.
Thurles Sarsfields proved too strong for Holycross in a one-sided 2017 Mid semi-final (0-20 to 1-34), but Michael Ferncombe’s men illustrated their quality in Séamus Ó Riain Cup with victories over Lorrha-Dorrha, Knockavilla Kickhams and Clonakenny and will be fancied to beat Ballina this weekend.
Ballina have appointed Jim McGrath as manager alongside selectors Mike Sheehy and Dave Quinlan.
In 2017 Ballina dropped down from Roinn I after losing play-off contests against Burgess and Kiladangan while they also lost to Nenagh Éire Óg in the North championship. Indeed, Ballina completed 2017 without a win to their name in championship hurling.
INTERMEDIATE HURLING CHAMPIONSHIP
The Tipperary Water-sponsored county intermediate hurling championship gets underway this weekend alongside the senior equivalent.
This year’s county intermediate hurling championship is comprised of twenty-one teams; three groups of four and three groups of three.
One match takes place on Saturday, April 14th in group one when Ballinahinch take on Moyne-Templetuohy in Templederry (1.30pm).
Ballinahinch have won the last two North titles and will be fancied to prevail here while Lattin Gaels wait for round two in this three-team group.
Four teams will fight it out for top spot in group two.
On Sunday, April 15th Thurles Sarsfields face Cappawhite in Dundrum (12 noon) while Carrick Davins and Cashel King Cormacs get to know one another at the Clonmel Sportsfield on Saturday, April 14th at 6pm. Thurles Sarsfields and Cashel King Cormacs look a solid bet to register opening day victories in group two.
Two games will also take place in group three - on Sunday, April 15th Borrisokane will be fancied to beat Drom & Inch in Moneygall (3.30pm) while the meeting between Galtee Rovers and Arravale Rovers is too close to call.
The contest between these two takes place on Saturday, April 14th in Cappawhite at 6pm.
Three teams feature in group four and it is anyone’s guess who will prevail from Gortnahoe-Glengoole, Moyle Rovers and Seán Treacy’s. In the first round Seán Treacy’s face Moyle Rovers on Saturday, April 14th in Cahir at 6pm. Seán Treacy’s should prevail in this one.
Group five is also comprised of four teams. On Saturday, April 14th Kilsheelan-Kilcash will be the favourites to beat Ballybacon-Grange at the Clonmel Sportsfield (4.30pm) and then on Sunday, April 15th Golden-Kilfeacle should be marginally too good for Kiladangan in Kilcommon (12 noon).
Three teams will also fight it out for top spot in group six. And, on Saturday, April 14th Moneygall will be keen observers while Knockavilla Kickhams and Shannon Rovers battle it out at Templemore (4.30pm). Knockavilla Kickhams should prevail here while their contest with Moneygall should decide the group.
Following the round robin stage of the competition the top two teams in each group qualify for the knock-out stage of the competition.
Preliminary quarter-finals - if all divisional champions are already qualified for the knock-out phase of the competition the three group winners, which featured four teams, and one of the group winners, which featured three teams, get a bye to the quarter-finals.
The remaining two group winners featuring three teams plus the six group runners-up play off in four preliminary quarter-finals.
Repeat pairings will be avoided where possible during the knockout stage of the competition.
Two teams will be relegated from the intermediate grade in 2018.
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