The second most important competition in club hurling in Laois gets underway this weekend as the Senior A hurling championship begins.
There are three games to look forward to this weekend – two on Saturday and another on Sunday – while there is one more game on next weekend.
The Harps, who were relegated from the senior ranks last year, will begin the competition as favourites after a flawless Division 1A campaign saw them win all seven games.
The nearest challengers to Dave Cuddy’s men are likely to be Ballyfin Gaels who were just edged out by Castletown in last year’s decider.
But ahead of the start of the competition, we’ve taken a look at one promising young star from each team who should make a real impression in the championship.
Ballyfin Gaels – Gareth Dunphy
Gareth Dunphy was Ballyfin’s chief scorer in the league as they claimed the ACFL Division 2 title.
The sharp-shooter ended the league final win against Clough-Ballacolla with ten points and his accuracy from frees will be crucial if Ballyfin are to try go one step further this year.
They form a Gaels team with Mountmellick at this level which means they will have promising Laois senior and U-21 payer Donnacha Hartnett available to them also.
Shanahoe Gaels – Rhian Bergin
One Bergin made a real impression for the Laois senior hurlers this year and another is primed to do similarly in the coming weeks.
Rhian Bergin is the younger brother of Laois full back Leigh and he will play a big role in any success Shanahoe are to have this year.
They also form a Gaels side with Ballypickas and have already enjoyed good form this year with a run in the Leinster League that took them all the way to the Division 3 decider.
Rhian Bergin hit three points in a 1-10 to 0-7 defeat to Windgap and he will likely be called upon to provide scores throughout this championship.
St Fintan’s Mountrath – Paddy Williams
Mountrath had an up and down league campaign with three wins, three losses and one draw – so it is logical to assume a similar championship campaign lies before them.
20-year-old Paddy Williams is the one to look out for for them as this young man is getting better with every game he plays.
Mountrath are unlikely to challenge for honours but they are similarly unlikely to find themselves in relegation trouble.
Colt Gaels – James Keyes
Another team who will be knocking around at the closing stages of this competition are Colt Gaels.
They are an amalgamation of Colt and Clonad – two sides who competed in Division 1A of the league with Colt reaching the final.
Their stand out player is James Keyes. The teenager was excellent for the Laois minors this year and continued that good form into the league semi-final win over Rathdowney-Errill where he hit three points.
He is extremely skillful, very quick and is sure to torment defenders from all of the other teams.
The Harps – Pádraig Delaney
The Harps are favourites to make an immediate return to the senior ranks and they have three members of this year’s Laois minor panel in their arsenal.
Twins Ciarán and Daniel Comerford will provide much of the scoring power but the steel of Pádraig Delaney at the back will also be crucial.
Delaney was minor hurling captain and will shine as The Harps look to capture the cup.
Rosenallis – Fiachra C. Fennell
Rosenallis are Intermediate champions but they will hold no fear of mixing it with the big boys.
Declan Conroy’s young outfit won four of their seven ACHL Division 1A games and narrowly missed out on a semi-final spot.
Their one to watch is Fiachra C Fennell, the youngest of three brothers on the team.
He played at midfield throughout the league and really stood out so Rosenallis will be hoping he can continue that form.
Clonaslee St Manman’s – Liam Senior
Clonaslee-St Manman’s don’t begin their Senior A hurling campaign until next weekend and will be hoping to put a difficult league campaign behind them.
Johnny Pilkington’s men had Liam Senior at midfield for the Laois minors who reached the Leinster semi-final and they will be hoping he can turn it on at senior level.
He also enjoyed success at schools level this year as he led Clonaslee Vocational School to a Leinster title.
Borris-Kilcotton – Oisin Fleming
The only second team in the competition are Borris-Kilcotton – who aren’t in action until next weekend against Clonaslee-St Manman’s.
David Bergin’s men endured a difficult league campaign but stayed up on head-to-head after beating the team they are set to face in seven days time.
Corner forward Oising Fleming, younger brother of senior keeper Eoin, is one to keep an eye on though.
This will be his second year playing at this level and he came up with a number of goals last year.