We’re into July and that means we’re just two weeks away from competitive hurling again. The club championships will be starting in the coming weeks and that will set us up nicely for inter-county action in October. There’s some great hurling to look forward to on the club scene and after doing my homework, I think I’ve found the teams to side with in some of the more competitive county championships. So, here’s my five hurling clubs to follow over the coming weeks and months.
The market tells you that this Tipperary Senior Hurling Championship is going to be wide open. Thurles Sarsfieldsare favourites but in years gone by, they’d be close to even money. That tells you how open this championship is and some people might be thinking that Thurles have had their time. When you look at last year’s championship, they didn’t even get out of their group. The four semi-finalists last year were Borrisoleigh, Kildangan, Kilruane and Nenagh Eire Og and it’s one of those who I fancy for glory this time around.
The team for me is Kilruane as they’ve been the most unlucky team in this championship in recent years, Two years ago, Thurles beat them by a point to knock them out and then last year, the eventual winners Borrisoleigh beat them by a point in the semi-finals. They’ve a lot of good players including Niall O’Meara, Craig Morgan, Brian O’Meara and Cian Darcy, who was top scorer in last year’s championship. They won all of their group games last year and even beat Thurles on their first start. They just haven’t managed to get over the line but I think they can finish the job this time around. It’s going to be a really wide open championship and it’s going to be a really exciting one for anybody looking in as well. Kilruane McDonaghs are my team for Tipperary in 2020 and in fact, of all the championships all over the country, they’re my best bet as well.
Imokilly are going for four Cork championships in a row and there’s been a lot of arguments over the years that they’ve got such a strong pick of players with all the variety of clubs that they have to choose from. However, they’re going to be without the Fr. O’Neills contingent this year but in saying that, they’ve got Colm Spillane, who’s going to be a major plus for them. There’s a lot of people down in Cork who would love to see them get beaten this year and I think the team to do that are Midleton, who are now under Ben O’Connor.
That tells me that Midleton mean business. Yes, I know that they’re in a very tough group, the group of death you could call it, with Sarsfields, Douglas and Ballyhea but I think they’ve got the calibre of player to top that group and kick on from there. The other team worth a mention is Douglas, who’ve got Shane Kingston, Brian Turnbull and the Cadigan brothers. They’re in Midleton’s group but I think they could be the other team to come out of that group.
There’s also a bit of talk about Erins Own too. I hear that they’re going well. But it’s all about backing winners and under Ben O’Connor, who will have Midleton well organised and well structured, I fancy them. With players like Conor Lehane, I think they can have a proper crack at this year’s Cork championship.
A bit like the Tipperary championship, this Clare championship is wide open. Realistically, any one of five or six teams could win it and that means there’s great value for the punter. Sixmilebridge are the defending champions and with Davy Fitzgerald over them, they’ll be the team to beat. However, I fancy a bit of a surprise in this championship as well and the team I like are Inagh-Kilnamona, who were only formed in 2008.
They were beaten by Sixmilebridge in the semi-finals last year but the scoreline doesn’t tell half the story as they were leading by four points with 15 minutes to go before faltering. They missed a lot of scores in that game too. They’ve had an awful lot of underage success and there is huge belief in Clare that they’re ready to take the next step and win a county championship. They’ve got a lot of strong personnel in their team and as well as offering great value at 8/1, I think they might have what it takes to go all the way this year.
The All Ireland champions in Ballyhale are at the top of the betting again this year in Kilkenny and they’re going for three-in-a-row too. But at the odds-on price, you’d have to think that they’re opposable given the fact that Henry Shefflin has stepped down, Michael Fennelly has now retired and they’re without Adrian Mullen.
I know James O’Connor has gone in as manager but with the presence of Henry and Michael gone out of the dressing room, if they’re to be caught, I think this is the year to catch them. I’ve narrowed Kilkenny down to three clubs in terms of a value bet and they’re O’Loughlin Gaels, Dicksboro and James Stephens.
The team I like is O’Loughlin Gaels, who were beaten by Ballyhale in the semi-finals last year, and they’ve got very good players like Mark Bergin and Paddy Deegan. They’ve got a lot of young players coming through and from seeing them in action, I’ve liked what I see. They won the Kilkenny championship in 2016 as well, which isn’t long ago, so a lot of their players will know what it takes to win a county championship.
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While the betting market in the Wexford Senior Hurling Championship would make you think that St Martins are going to be champions, I strongly disagree. This is the one championship which I’m looking forward to most and I’m even going to take in a couple of games when it gets underway.
It’s just so competitive, perhaps the most competitive championship that we’ll have in the country, and it’s going to be a case of dog-eat-dog.
Even some of the managers who will be involved like Derek McGrath, Jason Ryan, Adrian Fenlon and John Meyler. The team that I think will come out on top are Naomh Eanna and I’ll tell you why. They were champions in 2018 and it’s very hard to do back-to-back championships so I would forgive them for last year. They know what it’s like to get over the line and they’ll be a lot hungrier this year.
The Rapparees are in their group but they’ll be without Liam Ryan and that’s a big loss to them. Naomh Eanna have also got two of the best forwards in Wexford in Conor McDonald and Cathal Dunbar. They’re two top-class players who will take plenty of watching and they should be reaching their prime now.
Naomh Eanna are coached by Willie Cleary and I hear that they’re going very well in training too. They’re my fancy to do what they did in 2018 and become Wexford champions for a second time.
JOHN MULLANE’S CLUB CHAMPIONSHIP BEST BETS
- KILRUANE MCDONAGH’S (TIPPERARY)
- MIDLETON (CORK)
- INAGH-KILNAMONA (CLARE)
- O’LOUGHLIN GAELS (KILKENNY)
- NAOMH EANNA (WEXFORD)
*All prices correct at time of publication