IT has been said many times over the years that the Intermediate Hurling Championship is one of the most hotly contested competitions in Clare hurling and it has produced some excellent contests over the past decade.
This year’s contest should produce plenty of close contests, not least the opening-round clash this weekend of Ogonnelloe and Killanena.
The latter outfit have been very close to victory over the last number of years when they tasted defeat in the final twice and at the semi-final stage on a number of other occasions.
They are again expected to be in the final shake-up but whether or not they can make the long-awaited breakthrough remains to be seen.
After battling relegation on a number of occasions over the past decade, Ogonnelloe finally made the drop from the top flight at the end of last year. They will challenge strongly for a quick return to the top group but a shortage of numbers may prove costly.
The favourites for the title are Éire Óg, who have a bye in the opening round.
Winners of the U-21A crown a few weeks ago, they will be calling on many of that squad as they seek to return to senior ranks from where they were relegated at the end of 2008.
Last year’s finalists Feakle are in a similar position in that they do not have a huge panel of players and this may also militate against them in this campaign.
Ruan won the intermediate league crown last year but failed to maintain that form in the championship. Ennistymon won the U-21C title for the first time a few weeks ago and they will be hoping to build on that success.
Clarecastle’s Stephen Sheedy is in his second year as team boss and he will want to see the team in the final shake-up in what appears to be a strong group.
Earlier this season, Sixmilebridge were strongly tipped for honours in this grade, with many predicting that the club would have two senior squads next year.
Since then, however, the intermediate team has suffered a number of defeats, which has forced many to review their earlier prediction.
That said, the reality is that they should be strong contenders for the title, helped by the involvement of two club teams in the recent U-21 finals.
Ruan will be hoping to repeat their recent league success over Bodyke when the sides meet in Saturday’s first round.
In the same group, Ennistymon take on Wolfe Tones in what is likely to be a close-fought affair, which could go either way.
In group two, Feakle will start as slight favourites to beat Clooney-Quin while, in the same group, Parteen will be expected to account for Corofin
Three teams will qualify from group 1 and group 2, with two coming out of group 3 for the play-offs.