The second round of the St. Canice’s Credit Union Senior Hurling League Group A takes place this Saturday with three intriguing fixtures to look forward to.
Graigue Ballycallan and Erin’s Own will both be looking to bounce back after disappointing defeats to O’Loughlin Gaels and Dicksboro respectively in their opening games last weekend when they face each other at 12pm in UPMC Nowlan Park.
There are two games down for decision at 2pm with table toppers Dicksboro and Clara going head-to-head in Gowran in what promises to be one of the closest encounters in any grade across the weekend.
Mullinavat go in search of their first win of the season against O’Loughlin Gaels following a disappointing performance and result against Clara last time out.
It’s a crucial day of hurling for several teams as Group A begins to look exciting for some and worrying for others.
Graigue Ballycallan vs Erin’s Own (Saturday, 12pm, UPMC Nowlan Park – Full live commentary on KCLR)
This is arguably a season defining clash for both sides. Win and they are looking upwards. Lose and they are looking over your shoulder.
Erin’s Own showed signs of promise in their spirited defeat to Dicksboro last Saturday while Graigue Ballycallan could count themselves unfortunate to come out the wrong side of a tight encounter with O’Loughlin Gaels in their opening game.
However, the endgame for all 12 teams across each group is points on the board, something that neither of these two teams could manage despite heartening performances.
A young Erin’s Own team got the best out of an exciting forward line against Dicksboro. 1-19 would have been enough to defeat every team in this group last weekend with the exception of Clara and Dicksboro.
Former Kilkenny selector and current Erin’s Own manager Martin Fogarty will know that with the likes of Jack Buggy, John Dowd, Shane Feehan and more at this disposal, they have the firepower to trouble most teams.
But winning teams are built on solid defences and that was surprisingly their Achilles heel in their defeat to the 2020 county finalists as they shipped a staggering 2-23.
With intercounty stars Ciarán Wallace, Conor Delaney and Conor Fogarty at full-back, centre-back and midfield, the spine of the team should be in place to make Erin’s Own one of the hardest teams in Kilkenny to get easy scores against.
Unfortunately for them, that did not materialise at all in their opening game. If their back-line crumbles under pressure again this weekend, it’s hard to see how they get a result irrespective of their scoring potential.
For Graigue Ballycallan it is the opposite problem. They certainly had opportunities to take down 2016 county champions O’Loughlin Gaels in John Locke Park on Saturday.
They were unable to get over the line, however, largely due to their over-reliance on the deadly accuracy of full forward and free taker Seán Ryan.
Ryan got their first five scores of the game, all from placed balls, before midfielder Philly Cahill finally got them off the mark from play with just over 5 minutes of the first half remaining.
Ryan finished with 11 of Ballycallan’s 18 points, with ten of those coming from frees. The importance of free taking is there for all to see in club hurling.
Despite that, no other Ballycallan player got more than two points from play with only Tom Dunphy, Billy Ryan, Philly Cahill and Shane Butler getting on the scoresheet, each finishing with a personal tally of 0-02.
That is simply not good enough and they will need to offer more this weekend if they are to get much-needed points on the board.
It will almost inevitably be too close to separate these two evenly matched sides coming down the home stretch, but with a more solid foundation in place in the form of a strong back-line which is in contrast to their opponent’s, Graigue Ballycallan should just about have enough to get over the line.
Verdict: Graigue Ballycallan victory
Dicksboro vs Clara (Saturday, 2pm, Gowran)
This is the standout tie of Group A this Saturday as 2015 county champions Clara take on 2017 county champions Dicksboro.
Both sides come into this game on the back of relatively comfortable victories. Dicksboro eventually proved too strong for Erin’s Own while Clara looked mightily impressive as they ruthlessly dispatched of a pitiful Mullinavat on a scoreline of 1-26 to 1-15.
These teams will be fighting at the top of this group as it comes towards its conclusion and will have prospects of ending the Shamrocks recent dominance of the Kilkenny County championship down the road.
For now, they must do with a game that is a real acid test as to their chances of becoming county champions.
Humbled in last year’s final against the imperious Ballyhale Shamrocks, Dicksboro have a pacey and energetic forward line that Erin’s Own simply could not cope with as last week’s game progressed.
Aidan Nolan and Shane Stapleton always seem to put in strong showings but with Mark Nolan and Bill Sheehan either side of Liam Moore in a goal-hungry full forward line and Kevin Kenny cementing his place at wing forward, a settled and high-scoring six forwards could be enough to give the town team the edge in Gowran.
Kevin Ryan’s Clara are not a team full of star names but as a collective are one of the strongest sides in the county.
That has been their biggest advantage for the last decade or so as they claimed county titles in 2013 and 2015 and it remains the reason why they are at least on a par with the town teams in Group A.
However, while their unity is their biggest strength, there is also a paradoxical nature to that statement. In tight games towards the latter stages of the championship against contenders for the county championship, teams sometimes need a truly top player to stand up for them.
Despite possessing some truly fine hurlers, Clara do not have that in their arsenal, and it may hold them back the further they go into the deeper stages of the championship.
That may be the deciding factor this weekend. Dicksboro should just about have enough to maintain their 100% record and bring Clara’s to an end.
Verdict: Dicksboro victory
O’Loughlin Gaels vs Mullinavat (Saturday, 2pm, John Locke Park)
The fact that this feels like a foregone conclusion in many ways for Mullinavat will come as a major concern for the southern club’s manager Adrian Burke.
They were astonishingly flat in their 11-point opening round defeat to Clara on Saturday evening and their performance was bordering on woeful as they suffered the biggest defeat of any team in either group.
While they would not have been expecting to be amongst the top teams in this group, they look some distance off Graigue Ballycallan and Erin’s Own who you feel will make up the bottom half of this group.
And while it is admittedly early days, Mullinavat will be favourites to remain rooted to the bottom of the table throughout the course of the league campaign.
They would probably acknowledge themselves that from an individual personnel perspective, they do not have the same quality as most other teams in this year’s senior championship.
However, their lack of intensity in their limp defeat to Clara was not what you would expect from any team, particularly at the start of the campaign.
O’Loughlin’s, who were not at their best but got the job done last time out against Graigue Ballycallan, will prove far too strong for Mullinavat this Saturday in Callan.
They are a well-balanced side comprised of a strong back-line, a forward line who can burst into life at any time and a sturdy midfield in between.
Irrespective of the result, it is the nature of the performance that will be crucial for Mullinavat as they prepare for crucial games with Ballycallan and Erin’s Own.
Another heavy defeat will deflate the team and its supporters. Unfortunately, it is hard to see it going any other way than a two-digit difference separating the sides at full-time.
Verdict: O’Loughlin Gaels victory