THE JJ Kavanagh & Sons Senior Hurling Championship gets underway this weekend and Mount Leinster Rangers will be favourites to defend the title they won last year. KIERAN MURPHY spoke with representatives of all six teams to see how they are shaping up.
BAGENALSTOWN GAELS – Alan Corcoran
Manager: Willie Doyle Phil Geoghegan and Peter Doyle are selectors. Gavin Nolan is manager.
Captain: Alan Corcoran
Player movement: “We have 7-8 of those lads who are playing adult hurling whether it is senior or intermediate. Some have progressed towards the senior side and some of them in football as well. Jack McCullagh, Niall Bolger. Darragh Nolan, Paddy McDonnell and Jason Wall are all playing their part. It is great for the club to have so many lads representing their county. Craig Doyle seems to be getting fitter every year. Brian Doyle is still around.
Who would you like to see win the title if your own club doesn’t?
“There is no big secret. All the teams are aiming for a semi-final spot. It is hugely competitive. Obviously, Mount Leinster Rangers and St Mullins are the two teams to beat. That is not to say any of the others are going to be a pushover at all. They are all quite evenly matched but traditionally over the last few years it has been Rangers and St Mullins.
Dark Horses-I don’t know. As I said it is hugely competitive. That is the joy of it. While there are a small number of teams, anyone can beat anyone, and our objective is to try and get as far as we can. Hopefully we can put in a shift and progress. We are going relatively well over the last couple of years. Hopefully we can progress a little further this year. Things are going well. Training is going well.
“The last couple of years I have had injuries. I broke my ankle last year so I am going to concentrate on the club this year and try and get a little game time. I don’t want to put too much stress on the ankle but we are starting to make progress.
Verdict: Many of the Bagenalstown Gaels players have enjoyed underage success against Rangers and these lads have to find the path which will take them from skilful and promising players into winning at senior level. A semi-final place would be progress this year. Having said that nothing less will be a huge disappointment not just for the club itself but for the development of hurling in the county.
BALLINKILLEN – David English
Manager: Eoin Larkin is back for a second term
Captain: David English captains the club for the third time.-It is an honour. I didn’t really get to captain Ballinkillen until the later years as it was always given to a club player who was around the whole time. I was with Carlow so often it never fell to me.
Player movement: Last year we had an awful lot of injuries. Things didn’t go well for us and we never had the team out that we wanted. Craig Wall is travelling with the defence forces and is unavailable. Sean Whelan is still injured but his brothers Ciaran and Eoin are available.
Who does the Ballinkillen captain think will win the senior championship if his own club doesn’t? Rangers with their county contingent are stand out and look at what they have accomplished over the last 10 years. They are dominating at underage and have players coming through the pipe-line. Rangers, for the foreseeable future look as if they are always going to be the team to beat.
St Mullins have taken a good few scalps over the years and they will be there or thereabouts even if Marty Kavanagh is not going to be around. Chris Nolan is also gone from Rangers but they have a panel to back it up. It is a credit to them that they are so strong and they have so many players going into the county team. They are going to be the team to beat.
Regards who would I like to see win it-I don’t know. Hurling is all in the south of Carlow. Look at ourselves, Bagenalstown, Myshall-we are so long without a senior championship. Even Naomh Bríd have won one since the previous three did. It is great to see them back up senior. Hopefully Carlow Town will come. It would be nice to see one of those teams win to finish the drought.
Verdict: With Eoin Larkin coming in as manager last year there would have been hopes that his presence alone would have lifted everyone. It wasn’t to be. They didn’t even make the semi-finals and now they have to start all over again. Injuries may have curtailed their challenge last year but this time they have to hit the ground running and beat Naomh Eoin who are in a similar position to where they are now. Fine margins could dictate whether they or the Myshall side make the semis and Ballinkillen could lose out.
MOUNT LEINSTER RANGERS – Gary Kelly
Manager: Paul O’Brien. Everyone is impressed. Paul was involved with a Dublin team that won a Leinster final (2021). He is bringing in an intercounty and professional approach. He has a man called Fintan Concannon who is good too. You have to bring in someone good who helps you drive on
Captain: Not appointed yet.
Player movement: Richie Kelly and myself are carrying injuries. Other than that, all are fit. We are down Chris Nolan who is going to America for the summer. We have Donagh Murphy and Evan Kealy coming through. Fiachra Fitzpatrick has made his name with the county team this year. There are some nice lads coming through.
Who would you like to see win the title if your own club doesn’t? You have to look at Bagenalstown coming through and the young lads they have. They are strong underage and you have to look at them. Marty Kavanagh is gone from St Mullins but they will still be knocking on the door. There are six teams there. They all have a chance.
And how are Rangers going? All we can do is take it game by game. Even if we are county champions it is always the same at the start of the year. We want to go up those steps and lift the cup. It will be no different this year.
Verdict: Twice in their history Rangers have fallen in their quest for three-in-a-row successes. That was in 2008 against Naomh Bríd and to St Mullins in 2019. Both were one-point losing margins. It just goes to show that even great teams can wobble win history beckons. It is still hard to see them lose in the knock-out stages this year.
Verdict: Even without Chris Nolan, Rangers should retain the title and complete a second three-in-a-row in their history. Yet, it might not be the foregone conclusion everyone would imagine. Denis Murphy has retired. Paul Coady, Gary Kelly, David Phelan, Eddie Byrne, Diarmuid Byrne and Richard Coady have a lot of miles under their belts and sometimes, collectively on a given day, tiredness can set in on and the match is lost. Rangers have to avoid that happening after the group stages. A lot could fall on the shoulders of the talented Fiachra Fitzpatrick, Jon Nolan, Ciaran Kavanagh and Tony Lawlor.
NAOMH BRÍD – Tommy Dunne
Manager: Paddy Dalton from Graigue Ballcallan in Kilkenny
Captain: Adam Dunne
Player movement: There are a good few injuries. They will be back. Most of them.
Mikey Bambrick and Fiach O’Toole are going well. Adam, my brother, is solid. Then there is Aaron Amond, Niall Roche. We would be a good physical team. Training is going well. We were down a few players with injuries and county. The aim is to hold our place in senior. We don’t want to go back down. We are going to do our best. We will see how it goes.
Who would you like to see win the title if your own club doesn’t?
St Mullins is our first game and that will be a tough start but we are looking forward to it.
I wouldn’t say we would fear anyone but Rangers are strong and going for three-in-a-row. If we could get to a senior semi-final that would be unreal and it would be great for the club. It is hard to look to anyone else but Rangers.
Verdict: This season is all about consolidation. It is hard to see where they are going to get the wins. It will be a difficult season. The split football/hurling season will be a help to them as many potential dual players will not have to make a choice this year. Players from three football clubs (Old Leighlin, Ballinabranna and Leighlinbridge) have generally settled for football before the split season was introduced.
NAOMH EOIN – James O’Hara
Manager: Robbie Foley is manager but former Kilkenny star, Charlie Carter, is coach. PJ Smithers and Anthony Curry are selectors. Charlie is good. He brings a different angle to training and in fairness to him, he will take no messing. He is a good man. It is all go.
Robbie has done it with the intermediates over the last few years and is no stranger to anyone in the club. If we had won in 2014, we probably would have a couple more now.
Captain: Not selected yet.
Player movement: There are some good young lads coming through. Scott Tracey, Colm Beck, James Smithers, Michael Nolan. Yeah, it is good. We have a big panel and the likes of Dwain (Kavanagh), Micheál (Mullins), Eanna (Kavanagh), Kevin (Foley) and myself are all on the go still. There is a good mix.
Who would you like to see win the title if your own club doesn’t? You are not looking past the first round at the moment. Your main aim is to get to a semi-final and maybe get to the final. You are not looking past the first match. There will be no easy road to a semi-final.
As for who will win it? You can’t look past Rangers. They have 13-14 lads on the county and a lot of good lads not on the county.
And how are Naomh Eoin going? For ourselves, we go training every evening and you look at the pictures on the walls, you would wonder would you get up there yourself. It is pressure, absolutely, but at the same time pressure is for tyres.
Verdict: The longer it goes on without a senior title the harder it is going to get. Naomh Eoin are producing the talent. It is a question of transferring it into adult level and from there building up the self-belief to take on and beat the likes of Rangers and St Mullins. The opening game is vital against Ballinkillen. They might get the win here and after that, they can push on to a semi-final place.
ST MULLINS – Michael Walsh
Manager: Maurice Aylward is from Ballyhale originally but he is down in Glenmore now. Ger Lennon and Tom Doyle are selectors. Both of those have plenty of experience and that is good. They have brought a new life to the place.
Captain: Michael Walsh-A brilliant honour. Something you dream of.
Player movement: Marty Kavanagh is gone but James Doyle is back. Gary Bennett is not available either. He is travelling around the world. Apart from that, we have everyone. Conor Kehoe had a great year with Carlow and is really getting going.
Who would you like to see win the title if your own club doesn’t? You cannot see anyone else but Rangers. Ballinkillen are never that far away. They are always nip and tuck with us. It is always close. They are very much a dark-horse.
We were disappointed last year with the way things worked out. You have those days and we have to take the good and the bad.
Verdict: Against Bagenalstown Gaels in the semi-finals last year, they got all the breaks and went on to record a six-point victory. They were up and down all year. Not just from match to match but in games themselves. In a group game against Rangers last year they were facing a humiliating defeat but they dug deep to save face if not the result itself.
Losing the final was disappointing but they held Rangers goal-less when going down 0-24 to 0-16. Small comforts for a club like St Mullins. Missing Marty Kavanagh will hurt them. They should make a semi-final but don’t be surprised if Ballinkillen and Bagenalstown Gaels deny them a place in the final four.
Senior Hurling Championship – Round 1
FRIDAY 17 JUNE
Naomh Eoin V Ballinkillen, Netwatch Cullen Park, 7.30pm
Naomh Bríd v Naomh Moling, Training Centre Fenagh, 7.30pm
SATURDAY 18 JUNE
Mount Leinster Rangers v Bagenalstown Gaels, Netwatch Cullen Park, 4pm
Senior Hurling Championship – Round 2
FRIDAY 24 JUNE
Bagenalstown Gaels v Naomh Bríd, Netwatch Cullen Park, 7.30pm
SUNDAY 26 JUNE
Naomh Moling v Naomh Eoin, Netwatch Cullen Park, 6pm
Mount Leinster Rangers v Ballinkillen, Netwatch Cullen, 7.30pm