The second round of the St. Canice’s Credit Union SHL Group B takes place on Saturday afternoon with three intriguing matches for supporters of each club to look forward to.
After an impressive display against Tullaroan in their senior debut last weekend that ended in a draw, Lisdowney will be hoping to add to that point with a victory against a Bennettsbridge side who were unplayable at times in their win against county champions Ballyhale Shamrocks. Throw-in in Danesfort is 2pm.
At the same time, Rower-Inistioge will have to pick themselves up off the floor following their 8-point defeat to James Stephens when they take on Tullaroan in Thomastown.
At 3pm, the tie of Round 2 across both groups sees a replay of the 2019 county final as four-in-a-row seeking Ballyhale Shamrocks go in search of their first win against an in-form James Stephens side.
Read on to find out who we think will be the winners and losers this weekend.
Lisdowney vs Bennettsbridge (Saturday, 2pm, Danesfort)
This is the first of three games in this group that Lisdowney will be the clear underdogs in.
There will be little to no expectation for the 2020 intermediate champions to take anything from games with Bennettsbridge, James Stephens and Ballyhale Shamrocks. They need to use that lack of pressure to their advantage as they may need at least a draw with one of those sides to avoid the dreaded relegation semi-final.
They come into this game off a fantastic performance against Tullaroan. Buoyed by making their senior bow, they showed more intensity and energy than their opponents for the majority of last week’s draw.
But therein lies the problem. Despite being the better of the two teams they could not get what would have been a crucial victory even at this early stage.
A lack of a clinical edge along with a string of injuries to key players is not a good combination at this level. They missed five opportunities to add on points after an early Brian Kavanagh goal before a punch-drunk Tullaroan finally got into the game. A saved second half penalty did not help the newly promoted side either.
It was a rude awakening. At this level, take your chances or you will be punished.
And while they have undoubted quality in their ranks, with classy players like Aidan Tallis, Niall Brennan, Vinny Fitzpatrick, Kavanagh and more, failure to convert chances into scores is not something teams get away with too often at the highest level.
For Bennettsbridge, it is a case of more of the same. They held out for a 3-23 to 6-11 victory against Ballyhale Shamrocks despite leading by 12 points midway through the second half.
That win propels them to amongst the main challengers this year if they weren’t so already.
They have arguably the best half-back line in the county with Enda Morrissey and Robert Lennon either side of David Blanchfield. Those three provide excellent balls into their forwards while also giving great protection to a sound looking full-back line.
They’re young, hungry and look as though they are all singing off the same hymn sheet.
Bennettsbridge’s harmony and firepower will be too much for Lisdowney to cope with.
Verdict: Bennettsbridge victory
Rower-Inistioge vs Tullaroan (Saturday, 2pm, Thomastown)
Tullaroan were disappointing last weekend against Lisdowney but still managed to salvage a draw out of a game where they were second best for large spells throughout.
The 2020 All-Ireland intermediate champions have a mix of experience and youthful exuberance in their panel.
Their full-forward line spells danger for any team with Shane Walsh and Dylan Simpson both finding the net against Lisdowney while Tommy Walsh and Pádraig Walsh know how to stem the flow of a game when it is not going in Tullaroan’s favour.
They’re a hard team to beat but could be so much more if they could manage to put a full 60-minute performance together rather than dropping in and out of games.
Rower-Inistioge gave James Stephens a run for their money in their opening fixture before eventually succumbing to the town side on a scoreline of 1-20 to 0-15.
Much like Tullaroan, they are a hard team to beat but, other than Richie Leahy, they do not possess the same quality of forwards that most other senior sides have at their disposal.
Their 0-15 against James Stephens was the lowest score of any team across the opening round of fixtures and if they don’t manage to get a result this Saturday, they will be on the backfoot when it comes to avoiding 5th or 6th place in the group.
This is a big game for both teams with tough looking affairs to come down the line.
Tullaroan should have enough in attack to move onto three points and leave Rower-Inistioge in a perilous position.
Verdict: Tullaroan victory
Ballyhale Shamrocks vs James Stephens (Saturday, 3pm, UPMC Nowlan Park, Live commentary on KCLR)
This has the potential to be a classic on the same scale as the epic semi-final between these two sides last year.
Make no mistake, James Stephens will have revenge on their mind for that defeat that still remains raw for a lot of players and supporters a year on.
Manager Seamus Dwyer seems to have got the blend right with (relative) old heads like Matthew Ruth and Mikey Drennan adding experience to a team that is spearheaded by the dangerous Tadhg O’Dwyer and trusty free taker Eoin Guilfoyle.
Their back line has yet to be tested, however, and last year’s semi-final would suggest that they will be unable to handle the unparalleled firepower that the Shamrocks contain.
Win this one and they are on their way towards a top two finish. Of course, that will be easier said than done.
County champions Ballyhale Shamrocks were uncharacteristically poor for 50 minutes against Bennettsbridge where they only managed to score 11 points and trailed by 1-20 to 0-11.
They then decided to score 6 goals.
While they eventually lost, that final ten minutes would suggest that come championship time it will take something very special to topple them.
They have players that would walk into most intercounty sides. Kilkenny stars Joey Holden, Darragh Corcoran, Richie Reid, TJ Reid, Adrien Mullen and Eoin Cody stand out but with players of the calibre of Brian Cody, Evan Shefflin, Ronan Corcoran, Colin Fennelly and more supplementing them, it is indisputable that they have the best set of players of any team in Kilkenny.
The three-in-a-row champions will be hurt with last weekend’s performance and result and will accept nothing other than victories from here-on-in.
It will be close and full of class, but Ballyhale Shamrocks should tighten up this group with their first win this weekend.
Verdict: Ballyhale Shamrocks victory