BACK-TO-BACK champions Sixmilebridge are first into the breach on Friday evening as they look to take their perfect championship record to 11 matches when taking on old foes Clarecastle in Cusack Park, writes Eoin Brennan.
The glamour of that traditional firecracker has long since extinguished as Sixmilebridge are now aiming for a three-in-a-row of Canon Hamilton titles while the Magpies would be content to avoid any relegation danger in a year where two teams drop to intermediate.
The absence of Seadna Morey and Cathal Malone are significant but Clarecastle have their own injury woes and are more likely to need a full complement.
The more intriguing tie in Group 2 is the clash of Wolfe Tones and Scariff as whoever wins will have one foot out of the relegation zone and into a potential quarter-final spot.
The Tones will require a full AA battery charge from the Arons/Aarons while intermediate champions Scariff won’t hold any fear in their bid to make the leap to senior look seamless.
The business end appears a long way away for the five contenders in Group 1 who are set to play for the first two weekends in a row.
While Whitegate sit back and assess their future opponents, neighbours Inagh-Kilnamona and Kilmaley face off on Saturday evening while on Sunday, last year’s finalists O’Callaghan’s Mills and Clonlara meet in O’Garney Park.
Essentially, the tag of championship bridesmaids could be attached to all four sides this weekend as aside from Clonlara’s 2008 breakthrough, there aren’t any senior championship medals (in hurling at least) between the other sides.
With only two teams emerging from this ‘Group of Death’ there’s little wiggle room for error and therefore a good start is vital, something which Clonlara and Inagh-Kilnamona might benefit from due to their superior strength-in-depth this year.
In Group 3, Ballyea should have too much experience for Broadford while in what could be the tie of the round, a well-oiled Cratloe appear to have the slight edge on balance over a new-look Crusheen.
Group 4 is equally as difficult to call as with a full pack to choose from, Éire Óg would be favourites to not only see off neighbours Newmarket-on-Fergus and top their pool but potentially go all the way.
Their footballers certainly displayed the right intensity first time out so descending on their line-up, anything less could open the door for the Blues.
Clooney-Quin and Feakle will also be fascinating unlike their league match-up. In a match of small margins, the confidence of Feakle’s Clare Cup triumph cannot be underestimated, even allowing for the potential of Peter Duggan’s boomerang return.
by Eoin Brennan