The Hunt For The Conway Cup Begins

Shane Ryan holds aloft the Conway Cup following The Nire’s SFC Final win over Stradbally last October.They begin their defence of the JJ Kavanagh-sponsored Championship against Clashmore this Friday.							| Photos: Sean Byrne

Shane Ryan holds aloft the Conway Cup following The Nire’s SFC Final win over Stradbally last October.They begin their defence of the JJ Kavanagh-sponsored Championship against Clashmore this Friday. | Photos: Sean Byrne

Waterford Senior Football
Championship 2015 Rd 1

Group One: Clashmore v The Nire
(Friday, Fraher Field, 8pm)

The champions from The Nire Valley take on Clashmore on the SFC opener at Fraher Field this Friday night, and Benji Whelan’s men are keen to secure back-to-back senior titles.

Having fallen just short in the Munster Club Final to Austin Stacks, The Nire have hit the ground running in the Phelan Cup with four points from three games, and ought to be at full strength given that the National Football League campaign is now concluded.

However, they may come in for a tough opening examination against a Clashmore side who ran them so close in the 2012 semi-final.

The 2014 SFC was most disappointing for Clashmore but they’ll be looking to Brian O’Halloran,
Tadhg de Búrca and John Prendergast to spur them on to greater effect this time around.

Currently sitting on four points from four Phelan Cup outings, they’ve already suggested that they’ve got the stomach to tough it out in closely contested outings they didn’t come out the better side of last year.

But one suspects that the champions’ greater all-round quality will see them get their defence of the Conway Cup off to an ideal start.

Prediction: The Nire.

Group One: De La Salle v Ardmore
(Saturday, Fraher Field, 2pm)

De La Salle produced a strong showing in last year’s SFC, their first season back in the top grade for almost three decades, progressing to the knock out stages.

This contrasts considerably with an Ardmore side who found dual senior status arduous last year, but staved off football relegation when defeating Ballinameela in the play-off.

The St Declan’s club remain in the hunt for a Phelan Cup semi-final place, as do De La Salle, but their chances of progression don’t look quite so good on paper.

Ardmore’s early form this year suggests they may fare somewhat better than they did in last year’s SFC, which was, let’s face it, an endurance test throughout.

And while De La Salle’s Phelan Cup form is slightly less impressive than Ardmore’s, the strong, attack-minded tendencies they demonstrated in the early rounds of last year’s campaign cannot be forgotten either. One suspects the Gracedieu men may edge this contest.

Prediction: De La Salle.

Group One: Ballinacourty v Rathgormack
(Saturday, Fraher Field, 3.30pm)

This may well prove the game of the weekend, coming just eight days after both clubs met in the Under-21 ‘A’ Final, in which the men from the Comeraghs prevailed to claim a third title in five years.

Given that underage success, Rathgormack will feel they ought to be prodcuing a little more at senior level, but forget not that they provided The Nire with their sternest examination in last year’s SFC knockout stages.

Rathgormack could well prove the dark horses of this year’s Championship, and with quality youngsters such as Michael and Jason Curry at their disposal, they ought to prove a handful for most teams over the course of the campaign.

Ballinacourty have been part of the ‘big three’ in Waterford for the past decade alongside Stradnbally and The Nire, and their ambition to regain top status in the Deise is not without merit.

In Michael O’Halloran, Patrick Hurney, Mark Ferncombe and Stephen Enright, they can boast county team regulars and that level of experience cannot be discounted.

Rathgormack will be bolstered by last Friday’s Under-21 success, but one suspects the Abbeysiders will have too much for them over the hour.

Prediction: Ballinacourty.

Group Two: An Rinn v Saint Saviours
(Sunday, Kill, 2pm)

For several years, Saint Saviours were annual relegation battlers, but having gained confidence and experience in contesting and winning League Finals and Phelan Cups, the Ballybeg club has progressed to the SFC’s last eight in both of the past two seasons.

For their part, An Rinn have also shown welcome improvement of late, reaching the Comartas final of the Comortas Peile na Gaeltachta in 2013, while also contesting successive SFC semi-finals only to fall at the penultimate hurdle.

While neither side has had a particularly impressive Phelan Cup campaign, one suspects that will count for much once the ball is thrown in at Kill next Sunday.

Saviours, after the trauma of the arson attack on their clubhouse, have been glad of the relative distraction catalysed by a return to playing action, and their resolve may well be greater than ever. But An Rinn look to have an edge in the offensive stakes, and I’m giving them the nod here.

Prediction: An Rinn.

Group Two: Gaultier v Stradbally
(Sunday, Kill, 3.30pm)

These are two teams who have met a lot in recent years, with history favouring the Cove Men, who have lost the last two SFC Finals.

As one would expect, Stradbaly shall look to Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh and the fit again Tony Grey for leadership, along with Robert and Shane Ahearne too for that matter.

And with a new wave of players developing well, including Michael Sweeney and Jack Mullaney, they’ll be keen to right the wrongs of the past two Senior Finals.

Last weekend, JJ Hutchinson was Waterford’s top scorer in their final League outing of the year against Leitrim in Carrick-on-Shannon kicking eight of the Deise’s 10 points, all from frees.

He will have gained a lot of confidence from such a performance and if presented with kicking chances this weekend, he could well punish the mid-county side.

Stradbally appear to have the more all round balanced team in this game and I suspect they’ll pick up the points on offer.

Prediction: Stradbally.

Group Two: Kilrossanty v Brickey Rangers
(Sunday, Fraher Field, 7pm)

In recent seasons, Kilrossanty have shown signs of improvement at this level, while the Brickeys, who flirted with relegation for several campaigns, finally succumbed to the drop in 2013.

However, they unsurprisingly proved best in the Intermediate west before seeing off Portlaw ion the County Final in what proved a most successive year for the Bushy Park-based club.

Both teams have shown satisfactory form in the Phelan Cup to date and they’ll be keen to get their Championship campaign off to a winning start.

But one suspects a Kilrossanty side that should have enough to reach the quarter-finals will taste victory in the final round one match of the opening Championship weekend.

Prediction: Kilrossanty.

Thomas Keane

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