Sports Editor Seamus Hayes
THE race for the 2014 Senior Hurling Championship begins this weekend and while all 20 teams aspire to winning the title, the battle to hold onto senior status takes on a new focus this season.
In the current format, one team is relegated at the end of the campaign. This year, however, there are major changes, with five teams to lose their senior status.
Following a competitions structures review in 2011, a new format for the championship was put forward and accepted by delegates for 2013. However, at a special meeting of clubs, as Clare progressed to the All-Ireland senior and U-21 finals last year, delegates unanimously voted to defer the change for a year.
For 2015, the Clare Senior Hurling Championship will be run in the same format that was introduced for the senior football last year, which has been retained for this season. The group system is being replaced by a format that will give teams a second chance, but those suffering two defeats will be out of the race.
This year, the bottom team in each of the two Senior B groups will automatically be relegated to intermediate level. The remaining three teams to make the drop will be chosen as follows: the bottom team in each of the three groups in the A championship, together with the teams placed second and third (four in total) in the two Senior B groups, will be involved in Round 1. The three from the groups will go into bowl one. The two second placed teams plus one of the third placed teams (to be decided by open draw) will go into bowl two. This will result in three games. The three losers, together with the third-placed team, which received a bye in the previous round, will go into an open draw in Round 2, with the two losers automatically making the drop. The winning two teams in this round will then play-off to determine the final team to be relegated.
All of this adds significantly to interest in the championship and, in particular, to this weekend’s games. Those that lose this week, particularly in the B competition, will find themselves under extra pressure in subsequent rounds.
Saturday’s double-header at Cusack Park should attract a big attendance. Titleholders Sixmilebridge take on Crusheen in what could well be the game of the weekend, while Cratloe face Kilmaley in Group 3. All four have won championships in the last decade, so this will be a particularly difficult group to emerge from.
Nine games will be played this weekend with the remaining fixture, the meeting of O’Callaghan’s Mills and Scariff, scheduled for Friday, May 23.
Back in February when the masters fixtures was being debated, the Mills pointed out they would not be able to fulfill a fixture on the weekend of May 10/11 due to the wedding of a member of the Donnellan family taking place overseas. They asked that whoever would be drawn against them would facilitate them by playing a week earlier. They flagged their position again on the night the championship draws were made and, again, there was no objection.
The draw paired them with Scariff and, after some negotiation last week, Friday May 23 was agreed as the date, with both clubs agreeing to play their scheduled league game for two days later, on the Sunday.
For now, the focus is on this weekend’s games when followers can expect many close contests.
The winners will be able to rest a little easier ahead of round two, while the losers will know that victory on the next outing will be essential if they are to hold onto senior status.