The Clean Ireland Recycling County senior hurling championship gets underway in Tipperary at the weekend with fourteen games down for decision - five on Saturday evening and nine on Sunday, writes Noel Dundon.
The line-up was to have featured three double headers on Sunday in Templemore, Nenagh and Cashel, but due to the inclement weather, there are now no double headers. The pick of the games features in Templemore, where holders and favourites to retain the title, Sarsfields take on Borris-Ileigh while Drom-Inch tackle neighbours Upperchurch Drombane in the changed venue of Boherlahan..
Of course it is very early days yet and very difficult to predict who will slip on the many bannana skins which will come the way of clubs during the course of the campaign, but most gaels agree at this stage that Sarsfields, Drom-Inch, Nenagh Eire Og and possibly Loughmore Castleiney will all be in the shake-up for the ultimate honours.
Time will tell, but right now all clubs are equal as they prepare to commence their campaigns - it will be a first senior campaign in many years for newcomers Clonakenny who were promoted from the intermediate rank in 2015. They will take on Ballingarry in their first senior game in Leahy Park, Cashel. Moneygall and Carrick Swans has been switched to Golden from Cashel.
The third double bill was to see an all-north affair with Ballina challenging Silvermines in MacDonagh Park Nenagh on Sunday afternoon - that game goes ahead there, but Portroes squaring off against Lorrha Dorrha has been moved to Cloughjordon at 3:30.
Sunday too sees three single games on in different venues with Holycross Ballycahill taking on Toomevara in Templederry at 2:00pm; Mullinahone taking on last years North runners-up Templederry Kenyons in Templetuohy at 6:30pm; and Clonoulty Rossmore taking on a resurgent and outside fancy Kilruane MacDonagh in Dolla at 6:30pm - this could be a cracking contest, and perhaps one of the ties of the round.
Of course there is plenty of action also on Saturday evening but patrons will have to make up their minds on which game they wish to attend - with not enough light just yet for a double header in the evenings, all games have been timed for 6:30pm in different venues.
Holycross will play host to Killenaule and the Colin O'Riordan -less JK Brackens in what will be an interesting contest; while down the road in The Ragg, Eire Og Anacarthy Donohill will challenge Roscrea.
In Newport then, last years county championship runners-up, Eire Og Nenagh take on last years north champions Kildangan - one of the most mouth watering ties of the round and a game which will certainly draw attention, particularly from the north division.
Toomevara will host Burgess and Moyne Templetuohy; while down the road in Moneygall, Loughmore Castleiney, always a good bet for honours, will take on Borrisokane in one of the two three-team groups.
Moycarkey Borris and Knockavilla Kickhams are not in action this weekend as they feature in the three team groups, but they will be keeping an eye on the Swans v Moneygall, and Loughmore v Borrisokane games respectively. The winners only will emerge from these groups for the next stage of the championship.
While Sarsfields are the favourites to take the Dan Breen Cup and would seem to be ahead of most clubs at the present time - their U-21 county championship victory illustrated the strength in depth and conveyor belt of talent emerging from the Cathedral Town - the Blues will be the first to admit that challenges are coming from many quarter.
Nenagh Eire Og with the same management team back in place again this year, have been making steady strides and will be going all out to progress further still. They have been knocking on the door for some time and have played some great hurling. The experience of the last few seasons will certainly have helped their cause when they come to set out their stall for 2016.
Drom-Inch too will want to make a stand. They had a disappointing 2015 by their standards and even the securing of the services of Liam Sheedy for the concluding stages of the championship didn't rescue their season - they fell to Nenagh in the semi-final after extra time.
However, Drom-Inch have former coach, Lismore man Sean Prendergast back with them again - he was at the helm when they delivered their first and only Dan Breen Cup a few seasons ago and they will be hoping that he can infuse the team with the same kind of spark he managed to create on that glorious season for the entire parish.
Speaking of glorious seasons - Loughmore Castleiney have had a few of those in recent times, even if 2015 didn't quite go to plan. It was a difficult season for them in many ways, but they will be hoping to come back stronger than ever in the current, in both codes, with the hurling their priority for now. Don't rule them out for silverware in 2016.
Other teams who will perhaps fancy their chances in the county and in the divisions? Well, in west Tipperary, Eire Og Anacarthy have been the kingpins in recent times, but they will have Clonoulty Rossmore breathing down their necks again. The Clonoulty Rossmore men seem to have the talent to enjoy a serious tilt at the title, but they have lacked the character and perhaps the experience to go all the way. That could well change this season - watch this space.
In the south it has been between Mullinahone and Killenaule for a few seasons now, with the latter threatening to do something at county stage, without ever actually doing it. Perhaps this could be their year to make significant progress if they can keep their key players fit and ready for the fray. Mullinahone, on the other hand, will probably struggle in the county series, but could well end up as divisional champions once again. It's a very interesting scenario really.
Mid Tipperary is a lottery with Sarsfields, Loughmore Castleiney, Drom-Inch and in recent times Upperchurch Drombane showing the best. Last years final saw Loughmore Castleiney needing to win to stay in the championship - they didn't and ended up having a short season. The divisional championships are a short cut to the concluding stages of the county championship and for divisions like the mid and north, they are extremely important. Sarsfields won the mid final last year and their efforts showed that eventhough they were already through to the county championship, a divisional medal meant something to the players. The games stood to them too when it came to the tough championship games which followed.
In the north division, Kildangan and Templederry contested the final in 2015, but neither of them got to the last four in the county championship, whereas two other north teams - Nenagh Eire Og and Kilruane MacDonagh, did. There are fourteen senior hurling clubs in the division, so trying to pick a winner, or even finalists, is a real lottery. Borris-Ileigh and Toomevara would dearly love to return to past glories; Nenagh Eire Og will perhaps feel that getting their hands on silverware would be a big boost to their credentials; while Kildangan will have something to say about who should get their crown, if they are not to retain it themselves. Kilruane MacDonagh are regarded as a coming team, but how far can they come this season - divisional champions perhaps? That would be quite a journey for them.
Tipperary senior hurling Managers have claimed that very competitive county and divisional senior hurling championships are necessary in order to prepare players adequately for county duty. The current management team led by Upperchurch Drombane's Michael Ryan have scoured the county in search of talent and have given a number of players opportunities to show what they can do. They will be out and about next weekend again watching players and assessing whether or not to introduce a few new members to the panel, or whether to shake-up things further still within the squad - it is open ended and there will be ample opportunities for players to shine in the coming weeks if they wish to force their way into the set-up.
There are plenty of attractive looking games on the horizon - make sure to get to see a few of them if you can at all .
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