THE Clare Senior Hurling Championship will get underway with the meeting of Tulla and Clarecastle on this Friday evening, with all 16 teams in action over the weekend.
An opening round victory will mean the threat of relegation from the top grade is eliminated. A new format was introduced last year, which will see one of the eight first-round losers relegated to the intermediate grade for next season.
Following the first round, the eight winners will be drawn against each other, while the eight losers will also be drawn to face each other with the four losers going on to battle it out in the relegation play-off.
Two of last year’s semi-finalists will find themselves in the losers round, as Sixmilebridge (holders) take on Crusheen and Clonlara (beaten finalists) face Kilmaley this weekend. In the semi-final last year, Clonlara needed a replay to overcome Kilmaley before they disappointed in the final against Sixmilebridge, who went through last season without tasting defeat in either the league or the championship. They have not been beaten to date this season either.
A number of clubs have serious injury concerns as they put the finishing touches to preparations.Definitely out of the opening round is Clonlara’s John Conlon, while David McInerney’s absence could be a massive blow to Tulla. All-Ireland winning captain Pat Donnellan is missing from the O’Callaghan’s Mills line-up with a cruciate knee injury, which he suffered back in February. Shane Golden and Cathal Malone, two of the players that helped Sixmilebridge to the double last year, are also injured.
The intermediate championship also gets under way this week, with 14 of the 15 teams due to see action. Scariff have a bye in the first round, as they are in the three-team group with Sixmilebridge and Clonlara.
As there is a team less this year, the set-up has changed back to a league format of four groups for this year only. There will be no relegation worries for the teams involved, as no one will be relegated this year to ensure there will be 16 teams in the competition next season. The format will then revert to the system that operates at senior level.
For some of the participants, the championship games will also carry league points as teams have agreed to double up. The games which hold league and championship significance are Crusheen v Sixmilebridge, O’Callaghan’s Mills v Whitegate and Éire Óg v Ballyea in the senior race, along with Inagh-Kilnamona v Cratloe and Killanena v Broadford in intermediate.
By Seamus Hayes, sports editor