Last weekend’s action in Group A of the Michael Lyng Motors Intermediate Hurling League was not for the faint of heart.
All three games were too close to call right until the final whistle with St. Lachtain’s and Young Irelands playing out a draw, Thomastown grabbing two additional time goals to turn a certain defeat into a comeback victory against the Fenians and St. Martin’s finishing stronger than Conahy Shamrocks to claim a two-point victory.
There are three more games that have the potential to go down to the wire once again this weekend.
On Saturday, St. Lachtain’s and Conahy Shamrocks both go in search of their first victory when they face each other in Ballyragget at 2pm. The next day St. Martin’s go head-to-head with the Fenians in Freshford while Thomastown take on Young Irelands in Bennettsbridge. Both games on Sunday throw-in at 5pm.
Here, we take a look at who will come out on top in all three mouth-watering games in Group A this weekend.
St. Lachtain’s vs Conahy Shamrocks (Saturday, 2pm, Ballyragget)
Both teams come into this one on the back of an inability to get over the line in their opening fixtures.
St. Lachtain’s showed spirit in staging a late comeback against Young Irelands to salvage a draw but had opportunities throughout the game that ultimately cost them the precious two points, something that could prove costly upon completion of the league.
For Conahy Shamrocks, it was a rude awakening on their return to intermediate hurling. Tipped by many to achieve back-to-back promotions this year, they let slip a two-point advantage in the final 10 minutes against the unfancied St. Martin’s to eventually lose on a scoreline of 2-17 to 2-19.
While there will always be a tendency to lean on your free taker in club hurling, St. Lachtain’s were too comfortable to let their sharpshooter Liam Hickey pick up the slack as they eventually scrambled to a draw despite trailing for a large proportion of their opener against Young Irelands.
Hickey got 9 points for his side and despite Allie Rafter’s brilliant goal that was crucial in getting the draw, three of their forwards did not score a single point from play. With no scores from the midfield either, the over reliance on Hickey and to a lesser extent centre back James Maher and centre forward Noel McGree could become troublesome as the group progresses.
Failure to get their forwards on the scoreboard is something that cannot afford to become a trend if they are to start getting the better of the sides that they face.
It was a bitterly disappointing return to intermediate hurling for Conahy Shamrocks last weekend as they were edged out by St. Martin’s.
While no team wants to lose, it might be exactly what they need. The 2020 All-Ireland intermediate champions have become so used to winning and being shrouded with praise that a wake up call at this early stage could be used as a tool to sharpen their focus.
With classy forwards like John Mullan, Darragh Dooley and James Bergin, they have enough in their locker to damage any team at any moment. That is something that every side is not so fortunate to have.
They will be right at it from the start in an attempt to right last week’s wrong. A combination of intensity and a more potent forward line should prove too much for St. Lachtain’s to handle.
Verdict: Conahy Shamrocks victory
St. Martin’s vs Fenians (Sunday, 5pm, Páirc Lachtain)
The opening round victory against Conahy could not have gone much better for St. Martin’s.
A senior club that was competing in county semi-finals and finals for so long, the demise of the 1985 club Al-Ireland champions was tough for everyone involved to take over the last half a decade or so as they eventually dropped down to intermediate after several years of flirting with relegation.
However, under the tutelage of Peter Dukelow they have assembled a younger and fresh-looking squad. That revamp was something that they had been crying out for over the last number of years and now that it is finally here there are renewed hopes for an unlikely run at a return to the senior ranks sooner than anticipated.
It is no longer the same old names driving this team forward with youngsters Tristan Roche, Donal Coughlan, Josh Dempsey and Justin Manning coming to the fore.
It is no coincidence that an influx of new blood into the panel along with the implementation of modern coaching methods has led to the perfect start for St. Martin’s. They may well be dark horses for winning the county championship and returning to where they belong.
For the Fenians, the only question mark surrounding them is whether or not they have got over their defeat to Thomastown last weekend?
1-16 to 0-16 ahead in the 63rd minute, when the final whistle blew less than two minutes later, they had somehow lost by 1-16 to 2-16.
It was a bitter pill to swallow for a side who proved that they can put it up to some of the best teams at this level.
With Mark Webster on frees, they are guaranteed to take full advantage of opposition ill-discipline while they have a sturdy looking back line manned by John Henderson and Rory Phelan.
While they may come good as the league and championship progresses, the wounds of last weekend have most likely not healed and a flat performance may be on the cards. Something that St. Martin’s can take full advantage of.
Verdict: St. Martin’s victory
Thomastown vs Young Irelands (Sunday, 5pm, Bennettsbridge)
Thomastown did not justify their favourites tag to end their long wait to promote last weekend as they limped to an unimpressive victory late on against the Fenians.
The big question is whether that was the best they have to offer or just a one-off poor performance that can be put down to early season rustiness?
The answer is most likely the latter and the sign of any great team is when they come away with victories despite not performing to their optimum level.
They remain favourites to promote amongst hurling people in the county and rightfully so.
New manager Henry Shefflin has a forward line that is the envy of every team at this level and maybe even some senior teams. The three Donnelly’s – John, Eddie and Robbie are as good a half forward line that you are likely to see in Kilkenny and the clinical nature of their full forward line with former Kilkenny All-Ireland winner Jonjo Farrell in between Daithi Barron and Thomas O’Hanrahan means they are always a threat.
Young Irelands relinquished a four-point lead against St. Lachtain’s in the final 10 minutes last weekend as they only managed a draw despite not trailing at any stage throughout the game.
That inability to close out the game may be worrying for manager Tom Coogan as every point is critical in what is looking like an increasingly competitive group.
Their spine will make them difficult to play against with captain Michael Walsh at full back and Michael Carey ahead of him at centre back.
However, there is unnecessary pressure on them to get an unlikely result this Sunday after they left a point behind them last weekend.
That pressure alongside the sheer scoring power that Thomastown possess should see Henry Shefflin’s odyssey into management outside of Ballyhale Shamrocks continue on a winning trail.
Verdict: Thomastown victory