It’s quarter-final weekend in the St Canice’s Credit Union Kilkenny Senior Hurling Championship with all four games live on KCLR.
League champions’ Tullaroan take on Erin’s Own in the opening game on Saturday afternoon (2.30pm throw-in) before Bennettsbridge meet James Stephens later in the day (4.15pm throw-in).
Then on Sunday, Dicksboro face Mullinavat in the first of a double header (2pm throw-in) that is completed with the mouth-watering clash of five-in-a-row chasing Ballyhale Shamrocks and Clara (3.45pm throw-in).
With all of the ties taking place at UPMC Nowlan Park, it promises to be a feast of hurling action for supporters across the county.
Here, we preview the second quarter-final this weekend between Bennettsbridge and James Stephens.
Bennettsbridge vs James Stephens – St Canice’s Credit Union Kilkenny Senior Hurling Championship quarter-final – Saturday, 4.15pm, UPMC Nowlan Park
While the results portray a different picture, this could well be the closest of this weekend’s four quarter-finals.
James Stephens have limped their way into the last-eight following an underwhelming league campaign that saw them surprisingly have to partake in a relegation semi-final with Lisdowney.
Defeats to city rivals Dicksboro and O’Loughlin Gaels brought an end to a miserable run of results in the group stage that also saw Glenmore and Saturday’s opponents Bennettsbridge comfortably dispatch of Seamus Dwyer’s men.
They rallied last weekend to make sure their dream of winning a first county championship since 2011 are still well and truly alive.
The hope for the remainder of the championship springs from much-improved performances in recent fixtures alongside a desperately needed victory over Lisdowney.
The only question that remains is whether or not they are at the level required to defeat the best teams in Kilkenny, starting with Bennettsbridge?
The straightforward answer upon looking at their games to date is that they are not, but there are more factors at play than the fixtures to date.
All-conquering in the league with five straight wins, Bennettsbridge were as poor as they have been in years in Saturday’s league decider loss to Tullaroan.
The argument that will be made by the ‘Bridge’s supporters is that they were dumped out of the championship in 2021 following their crowning as league champions and they are hoping to time their peak performances for championship this year.
That point seems invalid, however, given the level of importance they put on all of their group games.
Manager Willie Maher and high-profile backroom team member Dan Shanahan had been confirmed as the spearheads for Laois’ new management team in the build-up to the league final. Was the sub-par performance and result linked to that news?
It may well be an over-simplistic view, but there has been recent form with such news seemingly harming some teams’ prospects, most notably in the intermediate championship last year when Thomastown crashed out at the semi-final stage to eventual winners Glenmore after then manager Henry Shefflin had been announced as the new Galway boss.
See also: St Canice’s Credit Union Kilkenny SHC quarter-final preview – Can Erin’s Own upset the odds against in-form Tullaroan?
Along with that, Bennettsbridge have ultimately failed to deliver come championship time since they were promoted to the senior grade in 2015.
A sole final appearance in 2018 brought with it a defeat to Ballyhale Shamrocks, but they haven’t reached the decider since which is undoubtedly an underachievement for a team filled with bundles of talent in every position.
The pressure of being favourites alongside the scars of recent years could feasibly hold back Bennettsbridge against a team who have yet to perform anywhere near their best this season and will surely improve.
However, if Bennettsbridge can recapture their league form, it is hard to see how James Stephens can get to the required level in such a short period of time to get the better of the table-toppers.
Verdict: Expect a really tight game, but Bennettsbridge will just about have enough to get over the line. A one-score victory for the 2021 league champions will be the outcome in this clash.
You can find out who will take their place in next weekend’s St Canice’s Credit Union Kilkenny Senior Hurling Championship semi-finals on KCLR as we bring you live coverage of the quarter-final ties this Saturday and Sunday, with Bennettsbridge and James Stephens continuing a busy weekend of hurling from 4.15pm on Saturday.