The first round of the Christy Ring Cup takes place this weekend,with four matches down for decision, on Saturday afternoon.
The second tier competition for the weaker hurling counties, is always keenly contested and once again,a number of sides will fancy their chances this season.
On paper at least, the two second division sides, Kerry and Down should be contenders come the end of the campaign. While neither set the world alight with their league performances,they are decent outfits at their best and look the ones to beat. When the counties met in Tralee in round 2 of the NHL, the home team had three points to spare. Overall,the Mourne men had a slightly better league campaign and if they met the kingdom on neutral ground in the Christy Ring Cup,they may just have the edge.
This weekend, Down take on the third division champions, Derry in the opening round of the cup. The Down men have home advantage,with the tie taking place at Ballycran(2.30). Derry only just edged out Wicklow in the third tier final, having lost out to the Garden County in the early stages of the competition. Saturday’s match is likely to be a close affair and as ever in these Ulster clashes,no quarter will be asked or given. Down have to be given the vote in this contest and they are taken to just shade the verdict.
Division 3A runners up, Wicklow travel to Castlebar(2.30) on Saturday afternoon to take on home side,Mayo. The latter were second in the 3B section and face a jump in class against the opposition here. Wicklow were just beaten in their league final and had overturned champions,Derry in an earlier encounter. Although they are the away side in this game, they should prove good enough to emerge with the spoils from this match.
Armagh and Meath clash in the Athletic Grounds(2.30) on Saturday afternoon. Both these counties hurled in Division 3A during the league and the former were relegated. When the sides met in round 4 of the competition,the Royals had three points to spare but also had home advantage. With a daunting trip to Armagh in the offing,the result may be a little different this time. While neither side are likely to be in contention at the finish of this competition, Armagh should at least get a win on Saturday.
Kerry travel to Newbridge(2.30) for the final match of the round on Saturday. The visitors are one of the better teams in the competition and will view this as a realistic opportunity to win some silverware. The side were hot favourites for the competition last year before falling at the final hurdle. They should prove far too strong for the opposition this weekend and are taken to get their campaign off to a winning start.
At the business end, this competition should involve both Kerry and Down. If there is to be a contender outside of the top two,then Wicklow look the team best placed to take advantage of any slip ups. As ever, alot will depend on how seriously each county takes the competition.
Mayo: D O’Brien; S Connell, A Connolly, G Henry; S Morley, D McConn (capt.), M Morley; B Higgins, E Madigan; N Murphy, D McDonnell, K Higgins; P O’Grady, R Cullinane, S Broderick.