THE Tullamore Court Hotel Offaly Senior Football Championship gets underway this weekend for ten of the 11 teams before being put in storage again until at least the back end of June.
Despite the fact that they were knocked out at the semi-final stage last year, Rhode will begin the championship as favourites with a number of younger players who featured on the Intermediate Championship winning team last year ready to step up to the senior side.
While they will be without Niall McNamee for one round and possibly more, there is enough strength in depth to make up for his absence.
Last year’s surprise championship winners were Edenderry and the core of their team remains in place as they look to stay on top of the pile and if they do it will be the first time that they will have retained the title.
One of the beauties of the Senior Football Championship is that there is little to chose between the sides at the start of the year.
Clara have a proven track record and will welcome back the majority of their players while Tullamore will boast a number of young players who have gained considerable experience since the end of their 2011 campaign.
Gracefield made it to the semi-finals last year as they finally lived up to their potential while Walsh Island is another loaded side although they will be weakend by the loss of Brian Connor.
Ferbane are another team who should benefit from an influx of talented young players who have cut their teeth with Gallen CS while Tubber, Ballycumber, Erin Rovers and St Rynagh’s are all storng sides in their own right and are more than capable of beating any other side in the championship on any given weekend.
One thing to take into account this year is that there is an odd number of teams following Shamrocks’ relegation with no team gaining promotion, there will be one team in Group 2 on the sidelines watching on each week. Tubber are the side who sit out in week one and while there is a possibility they could play in late June, it is all dependant on inter-county games and they could well end up waiting until late July or even August to start their campaign.
Ballycumber v Clara
This game between two near neighbours was given an added edge (as if it needed one) when Ballycumber reportedly changed their minds about playing the game in Clara as part of the official opening of the new grounds as a curtain raiser to Offaly and Kilkenny. Now fixed for Tubber on Friday evening, Clara will have an added incentive to win the game they were already going into as favourites. A case could be made for several of the Clara players to be on Tom Coffey’s Offaly panel and that strength in depth should see them to a win.
St Rynaghs v Walsh Island
The green and white hoops go head to head in Killurin on Sunday as Walsh Island and St Rynagh’s go head to head. The sides also met in the championship last year with St Rynagh’s snatching a 1-11 to 0-11 win. Both sides progressed to the quarter-finals but came a cropper at that stage. League form suggests it could be a close game between two on song teams although Walsh Island’s six wins from seven in Division 1 is marginally more impressive than St Ryangh’s seven wins from seven in Division 2. This has all the hallmarks of being a close game with Walsh Island getting a tentative nod.
Predicition: Walsh Island
Erin Rovers v Gracefield
Possibly the hardest game of the weekend to call is this game between Erin Rovers and Gracefield in Killeigh. Both were surprise packages in their own right in 2011 with Gracefield going unbeaten through the group before falling at the semi-final stage. Erin Rovers were second in their group but fell to Clara at the quarter-final stage. Both sides will have designs on a return to the knock-out stages at least this year but a winning start will be crucial. Erin Rovers have struggled in the league going without a win in seven games in Division 1 while Gracefield are hot on St Rynagh’s heels in Division 2. If both teams play to their potential, Gracefield would be slender favourites however it is a brave punter who backs against Erin Rovers and with that in mind, let’s sit on the fence on this one and go for a draw. There’s guaranteed to be at least one.
Ferbane v Rhode
Championship favourites Rhode start their campaign against a Ferbane side who they saw off last year by 10 points in the group stages. However this is an intriguing game as both sides should be strengthened from last year with an infusion of young players. It might be too soon to expect a breakthrough from Ferbane but the Gallen players have learned at the highest level and it will not be long before they are challenging for the Dowling Cup. As if Rhode needed more players coming through, the Offaly U-21 team was heavily influenced by players from the Village. They should be too strong for Ferbane on Sunday and while not exactly going out on a limb, the path to the Offaly Senior Football title will go through Rhode again this year.
Edenderry v Tullamore
Arguably the best game of the weekend pits last year’s defending champions Edenderry against Tullamore. Last year’s encounter in the group stages ended with just a point between the sides. Edenderry pushed on from that win and went all the way to win the Dowling Cup while Tullamore were very disappointed to miss out on the knock-out stages and only a win over Tubber in their last game saw them dodge the relegation play-off. In the league this year they have been performing well and a key cohort of younger players could be the key to their recovery this year. Edenderry for their part come into the year as defending champions which can act as a motivation or a burden. The team spirit they showed to win through last year was superb and if they refind that form and passion, they will be in the shake up again. It is a tough opened for them but despite their poor league for, and because I’ve already gone for a draw in Group 1, a tentative nod goes to Edenderry in what will be a close game.