Paddy Rigney being stretchered off in Kinnitty's win over Drumcullen.
SOME of the big guns will get their credentials tested when the third round of the Molloy Environmental Systems Senior Hurling Championship takes place next weekend.
The championship has went on fairly predictable lines to date with Kilcormac-Killoughey, Birr, Coolderry and St Rynagh's winning their two games to date and moving to the top of the group with four points.
They would have been the four pre-season favourites for the four semi-final spots and they have done everything that has been asked of them to date. The format of the championship provides margin for error but with only four teams qualifying, clubs won't want to be suffering shock defeats to sides they would normally expect to beat. The ten teams are in two groups of five but they play the clubs in the opposing group. It is the four teams with the best overall record who go through and it is an interesting, different format.
This weekend's games will tell more, particularly about Birr and Kilcormac-Killoughey while champions St Rynagh's and Coolderry will also learn a good bit about themselves.
The meeting of St Rynagh's and Coolderry is the pick of this weekend's games while Birr should receive their first real test from Belmont. Kilcormac-Killoughey have shown mixed form and will find out more about themselves against Shinrone while Ballinamere simply have to beat Drumcullen and the meeting of Kinnitty and Seir Kieran is a knockout one, in everything but name.
Belmont have struggled, losing to Coolderry and Kilcormac-Killoughey and they are in trouble. The news that their star player Oisin Kelly is out for the season with a cruciate injury is a devastating blow to them and it is difficult to see them making the semi-finals in his absence.
Ballinamere are somewhat unlucky to be pointless. They didn't perform in their first round defeat against Shinrone but were very good against St Rynagh's in their last game and close to a shock in a 1-18 to 0-19 defeat. It means that they are on very thin ice and another defeat will almost certainly end their prospects.
Shinrone and Kinnitty have two points while Ballinamere, Bemont, Drumcullen and Seir Kieran are without a point. It is basically knockout from now on for all of these clubs and the odds do favour the top four making it through but with three rounds to go, a lot can happen yet – 8 points in the target to guarantee qualification and 6 points is likely to get at least one and maybe a couple of teams through.
This weekend's games are on Sunday, September 26:
Kilcormac-Killoughey v Shinrone in Banagher at 12.00
The jury is very much out on Kilcormac-Killoughey. They are probably second favourites but there are plenty of question marks about them. They were very poor in their 2020 county final defeat by St Rynagh's earlier this year and their form to date has thrown up shadows. They were very good in their first round win over Seir Kieran but were not convincing against Belmont. The Shinrone game is a huge one for them and with St Rynagh's still to come, a defeat will put them under big pressure.
This is also a massive game for Shinrone. Their first round win over Ballinamere was crucial and gives them a chance and they competed well when losing to Coolderry. Shinrone have a lot of good hurlers and won't be far off the mark here.
Verdict – Kilcormac-Killoughey.
Birr v Belmont in O'Connor Park at 3.30pm
The meeting of Birr and Belmont is one of the most interesting of the weekend. Birr have started off very well with wins over Drumcullen and Seir Kieran but that in itself, doesn't say anything. These are two games Birr were expected to win and had to win. They did it comfortably but there are much tougher tests ahead and Belmont should give them a much tougher examination, even without Oisin Kelly.
There has been something impressive by Birr. Eoghan Cahill's scores will make them competitive against everyone and as his first cousin Lochlann Quinn adapts to life in club senior hurling, he will become increasingly influential. Birr are an exciting young team with a lot of skilful hurlers and are clearly working very hard on returning to the top. Belmont have been disappointed with their form. They are better than they have been playing and have a point to prove after not scoring from play against Kilcormac-Killoughey. Wth Oisin Kelly out, however, it is difficult to see them making the semi-finals. They should be competitive here but Birr have looked better to date.
Verdict – Birr.
Kinnitty v Seir Kieran in Birr at 1.30pm
While Kinnitty have two points and Seir Kieran have none, this is a knockout game for both sides and the losers are very unlikely to make the semi-finals. In Seir Kieran's case, a third defeat will put them out and while Kinnitty have two points, this is a must win game if they are to get a shock semi-final place.
Kinnitty lost to St Rynagh's in their first game and did what they had to do with a solid win over Drumcullen. Seir Kieran have struggled badly to date, losing to Kilcormac-Killoughey and Birr. They would always have expected to lose those two games but they still look to be in trouble and their target is to avoid relegation. A win here will give Kinnitty a chance of getting onto six points and at least of being in the mix – they play Belmont and Seir Kieran in their closing two games. Seir Kieran won't fear Kinnitty and will see this as a good chance of getting their season motoring. It should be close.
Verdict – Kinnitty.
Ballinamere v Drumcullen in O'Connor Park at 1.30pm
Ballinamere simply have to win this game if they are to have any chance and they are favourites to collect the two points. Drumcullen did very well to get promoted from senior “B” but their aim was always survival as they have a limited pool of players.
Ballinamere showed what they have to offer against St Rynagh's. They are an emerging team and while it may not happen for this year, their performances for the rest of the year are important for them. They can't afford any slip ups here and with four of the Offaly senior hurling team in their ranks, they should be able to win.
Verdict – Ballinamere.
Coolderry v St Rynagh's in Birr at 3.30pm
Coolderry continue to confound the odds. Some of their long serving stalwarts are either gone or in the veteran ranks but they remain a fiercely competitive, proud team. Kevin Brady came on as a sub against Belmont and didn't feature against Shinrone while Joe Brady hasn't played any game this year. Brian Carroll continues to impress as one of the best forwards in Offaly, putting up big tallies from play and frees.
Coolderry may not win the chamionship but they will be very difficult to beat and no side will like meeting them. St Rynagh's have developed into a serious force of nature in the past couple of years and are the team to beat. They are clear championship favourites and have hit the ground running, albeit with a major scare from Ballinamere. This is the game of the round and it is the performance of Coolderry that people will be watching in particularly. They will relish the challenge.
Verdict – St Rynagh's.
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