Offaly senior hurling club captains with sponsor Donal Molloy and County Board chairman Michael Duignan.
THEY have been a long time on the road with a lot of mileage clocked up but St Rynagh's remain the team to beat in the Offaly Senior Hurling Championship.
They are aiming for their fourth title in a row and you would imagine that hunger and desire would loom as an issue as time goes on but they will also be also trying to extract the absolute maximum from their latest golden era.
The Banagher based club know what it is like to spend an extended period in the doldrums. Those memories are still painfully fresh for many in the club and they will be very conscious of the fact that successful periods do not last forever.
They have been a serious force of nature in the Offaly Senior Hurling Championship in the past few years with the almost perfect mixture of power, strength, skill and flair. They have that mixture all over the field and no other club in Offaly has been able to match them for the last few years.
They have come close to falling and Coolderry almost took them in last year's final. St Rynagh's got out of jail that day but the one thing they possess in abundance is character and that got them home in the wind up.
Everyone else will be shooting at them this year but St Rynagh's are the starter's favourites. Very tough opposition will come. Kilcormac-Killoughey have a huge array of young talent emerging. Their minors can't play this year but many others have progressed to their senior hurling team, getting great experience and they will be maturing nicely.
Kilcormac-Killoughey have the players to emerge as the next dominant force but they are in a transitional phase at the moment. Some of their long established stalwarts have either retired, moved away or are beginning to decline. Ciaran Slevin retired last year, Daniel Currams is in England, Ger Healion was used as an impact sub last year while Conor Mahon is very much in the veteran stages and James Gorman is in the same boat. The Geraghty's Peter and Thomas are young enough but with considerable mileage up and the jury is very much out on Kilcormac-Killoughey.
They are very serious contenders but they do have a corner to turn. Coolderry are also very serious contenders. They also have a few players who are in the end game of their long careers and there are doubts about them but they command the utmost of respect. What you see if what you get with them and they were so close last year. They won't be far away this year.
Birr are trying desperately hard to improve and are desperate for success but they could do with a bit more power and physicality. Winning the Division 1 Hurling League title last weekend was a big boost for them.
Ballinamere and Shinrone are trying very hard to take their place at the top table. Both have a lot of talent with Ballinamere having a particularly large representation on the Offaly senior hurling panel. They flattered to deceive last year while Shinrone did well to reach the semi-final. This year is an important year for both.
Belmont have also been knocking on the door for some time but they did go back a bit last year and winning the Senior Hurling Championship would represent a huge step forward for them.
With the groups seeded, it is very much set up for the best teams to reach the knockout stages. The top team in each group goes into the semi-finals with second and third criss-crossing in two quarter-finals. The bottom two teams meet in the relegation play off.
There is ten teams in the Senior Hurling Championship. Group 1 consists of St Rynagh's, Kilcormac-Killoughey, Birr, Kinnitty and Clodiagh Gaels. St Rynagh's, Kilcormac-Killoughey and Birr are the clear favourites to emerge out of this, though Clodiagh Gaels in particular will have prospects of causing an upset.
Coolderry, Shinrone, Ballinamere, Belmont and Seir Kieran are in group 2. This is the most interesting of the groups. Seir Kieran are the rank outsiders here and Coolderry are the definite favourites but they have had poor years before and nothing is certain. Shinrone, Ballinamere and Belmont all have realistic prospects of emerging and everything will be ferociously fought here.
Ultimately, the best teams will be around at the end of the championship and there is a strong possibility of a St Rynagh's and Kilcormac-Killoughey final. While St Rynagh's may have been around a while, many of their players are still in or short of their prime. They could win Offaly's first four in a row since Birr back in 2008.
Verdict – St Rynagh's.
First round games
Friday, June 24 - Rath: SHC, Birr v Kilcormac-Killoughey 8pm; Verdict – Kilcormac-Killoughey.
Friday, June 24 - Banagher: SHC, Clodiagh Gaels v Kinnitty 8pm; Verdict – Kinnitty.
Friday, June 24 - Lusmagh: SHC, Ballinamere v Shinrone 8pm; Verdict – Ballinamere.
Saturday, June 25 - Birr: SHC, Belmont v Seir Kieran 4pm; Verdict – Belmont.
See OffalyLive for previews of all the teams.
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