Competitive affair expected in Offaly SHC

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brian.lowry@midlandtribune.ie

After a five month break since the County final last year, the Offaly Senior hurling championship swings back into action this weekend as the first of two rounds in the space of seven days gets under way.

Similar to last year, clubs will play two rounds on consecutive weekends before the championship breaks until the Summer and coming back into focus in July.

This years as competitive as any year that has gone before. The bookies have Coolderry, Kilcormac/Killoughey and St Rynagh's up as the joint favourites and while it is hard to argue with their reasoning, there are plenty in the chasing pack that will fancy making waves in this years championship.

One notable difference in this years championship will be exclusion of Seir Kieran who were relegated to the Senior 'B' championship after Kinnitty got the better of them in last year's relegation final.

These two rounds in April are hard to judge. The first round is our first chance to get a look at teams in championship action with the league games in the last few weeks a dodgy form book to go by.

There is no doubt that the championship can't be won in April but it could be lost and facing into a three or four month break having been bet twice will not be a nice position for any club to be in.

In contrast, picking up four points will give clubs a real pep in their step and with the Intermediate and Junior championships not breaking until July, the whole atmosphere of a club with two or three teams can sometimes depend on how the Senior team in that club is getting on.

Coolderry

Joachim Kelly has decided to step back from his role of manager but remains on as a selector to Seamus Kennedy while the rest of that management team from their winning season last year remains in tact.

They will be down key men in the opening round as detailed in the opening round preview but they will know it is a long championship. They were worthy County champions and will look to come into their own in the Summer months.

David King is expected home in he Summer from his travels while they also have the luxury of not having to juggle football commitments.

Brian Carroll and Kevin Connolly are one of the best forward combinations in the County and will do a number on any team from open play and frees.

They have some exciting young talent too in the form of Conor Molloy and Will Malone. While they will be up against it to retain their crown, they are certainly in the discussion to do so.

Kilcormac/Killoughey

Danny Owens has returned to the helm after Stephen Byrne stepped down at the end of last year. Owens was in charge when they hit their purple patch a few years back and has since won a County title with Camross in Laois.

Some of their main men are a year older but while that is a concern for them, they also have plenty coming through the ranks having won the Intermediate championship and the Minor 'A' title last year.

They will field a team in four adult grades of championship and are a club with a healthy future but the jury is out on whether 2019 will be their year.

The have some exceptional forward talent to pick from. Ciaran Slevin, Conor Mahon, Thomas and Peter Geraghty, James Gorman and Dan Currams are all sure to play while Cillian Kiely is also an option up front.

They have plenty of options too given the numbers in the club and it will be extremely interesting to see how Danny Owens gets on in his second coming.

St Rynagh's

2018 was a poor year for St Rynagh's by their standards. There was no County final appearance and they will be out to return to the top of the pile his year with Ken Hogan at the helm. The former Tipperary All Ireland winner will bring a wealth of experience having guided Coolderry to glory in the past.

They have the players to have a big say also. Something just wasn't quite right last year but they are a team that could really charge out of the blocks in 2019.

Ben Conneely is arguably the best player in the County at the moment but there is a strong support act there also. Dermot Shortt and Sean Dolan are knocking around the County panel but they also have some quality club hurlers at their disposal.

Appointing Hogan as manager was a big statement and if he can re-kindle their form of 2016, they will have a big say in the destination of the Sean Robbins Cup.

Belmont

One of the most unluckiest teams in the last few years. They have lost the last two semi finals by a point to the eventual winners and will be hoping that 2019 is the year that their luck will change.

Trevor Fletcher is back for another year in charge and they had a timely boost at the end of last year when they won the U21 'A' hurling championship for the first time in their history.

David Nally, Mark Egan, Damien Egan, Oisin Kelly and Colin Egan have all featured for Offaly in the National league this year and will lift things a few notches when they go back with their clubs.

Given the tight nature of the championship and with a lot of players having dual commitments, they are a club that will need to get points on the board in the early rounds to ease the pressure when the dual players come under scheduling pressure in the Summer.

They are one of the best teams to watch but that can also mean that they can be open to teams attacking them.

All over the field, they are balanced with a range of players that can play in five or six positions. That flexibility will be needed when certain situations arise and while they are not far off the mark, they will need to push themselves on that extra bit this year.

Shinrone

In terms of talent, they have been right up there in the last few years but again, like so many other teams, they just didn't seem to be able to push that bit further.

They have the unusual situation this year where they have no one on the County hurling panel and time will tell if that is an advantage or not.

While they will have had everyone available for challenge and league games, will not having that County standard training and experience go against them.

In the early games, the fact that they have been all together and not having lads on the Senior County panel, could well stand to them. Their team play should be sharp and in sync and these two early games are a change for them to make a statement.

Sean and Michael Cleary will Captain Arien Delaney's men while Dan Doughan, Conor Doughan, Adrian Cleary and JP Cleary will all be key to their chances.

Youth and exuberance will not be an issue and if they can tighten up on some wayward shooting that has hampered them in recent years, they can take another step forward this year.

Birr

Birr will be very interesting this year. Barry Whelahan is now in charge with brother Simon also involved and both are not long out the door from Senior hurling. Looking in from the outside, you would imagine that they will have a good relationship with the players and have what it takes to get the best out of them.

Sean Ryan is now back fully with the club having retired from the County scene and his presence week in week out will be sure to lift not only the spirits but the all round quality in what they do.

Eoghan Cahill and Craig Taylor are both on the County panel but outside of those two, Birr are also a team who should have a lot of collective work done so far.

The lure of Coolderry in the opening round would have been good motivation in the Winter months for the team Captained this year by Barry Harding.

They haven't pulled up any trees but if there is a team that could come out of the chasing pack this year, Birr could be the ones.

Eoghan Cahill, Colm Mulrooney and Emmet Nolan are all capable forwards while there is also a wealth of experience throughout the panel.

Kinnitty

Kinnitty need to make a quarter final this year. They saved themselves from relegation last year by winning the relegation final but they could have been in a quarter final just as easy. That showed the small margins involved and this year those margins don't look like going away.

They have a new man in charge with Westmeath man Nicky Weir down in the hot seat and that bit of freshness in the equation could be what they need to push on from the years of excellent work put in by Ger Coughlan.

Paddy Delaney played Fitzgibbon cup this year and will be one of their go to defenders while Paddy Rigney has also had an extended run in the Offaly team in the league.

The Kealey brothers, Colm Coughlan and James Dempsey also give them a high level of experience and stability while Eoghan Callaghan has also been exposed to the Offaly set up this year.

How can they kick on? They need a bit of luck but they also need to make their own luck. They were there or there abouts in a lot of games last year but just couldn't win games in the closing stages.

They can ruffle a few feathers this year and while many will look at themselves and Ballinamere as relegation final contenders, they have the raw materials and tools in their arsenal to be a quarter finalist this year. After that, anything can happen.

Ballinamere

Last year's Senior B champions are back up in the Senior ranks and look a lot better equipped to make an impact this time around.

They have a lot of things going for them. Two Minor 'A titles, an U21 final appearance and that winning momentum and mindset from last year are all advantages they have this year but they will also be fully aware that they need to picks up another notch.

Chris McDonald has transferred in from Brosna Gaels this year while the emergence of a lot of young talent will make them an interesting proposition this year.

Along with McDonald, Paddy Murphy, David Magner and Gerry Spollen will be their leading figures but with Brian Duignan, Ciaran Burke and Ross Ravenhill coming in off the back of an excellent championship last year, their talents will be a big help to them in Senior hurling this time around.

Padraig Hannon is the new manager this year and he will be hoping that they can get something fro their opening two games against Belmont and Coolderry. They will be the underdog in both but if they are to have a right cut this year, they won't be able to afford to go into the Summer Series with zero points on the board.

Time will tell if they are ready for the step up.

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