The most important competition in club hurling in Laois gets underway tonight as the Senior hurling championship begins.
There are four games to look forward to this weekend – with one on Thursday, two on Saturday and one on Sunday.
Camross are reigning champions but this competition has proven to be ultra competitive over the last 15 years.
Camross became the first team since Castletown in the early 2000s to retain the Bob O’Keeffe Cup and they will be gunning for three in a row.
The unpredictable nature of the championship makes it utterly intriguing and while Camross are our favourites, you can be sure the likes of Clough-Ballacolla, Rathdowney-Errill and Borris-Kilcotton won’t be too far away.
For the second year, the competition has reverted to a group format where teams have been placed into two of them.
Castletown, Portlaoise, Ballinakill and Rathdowney-Errill are in Group 1 while Camross, Borris-Kilcotton, Clough-Ballacolla and Abbeyleix are in group 2.
The top team advances to the semi finals with second and third playing in the quarter finals. The bottom team in each group heads for the relegation final.
Here we have picked out one young player from each club that we expect to feature this year.
Check them out below:
Abbeyleix – Stephen Thompson
Stephen Thompson is a dual player who is likely to play both senior football for Ballyroan-Abbey and senior hurling for Abbeyleix at some stage this year.
Comfortable in both defence or attack, Thompson’s athleticism is his main trait while he also has a real eye for goal if given the opportunity.
Ballinakill – Gearoid Lynch
A fine underage footballer with St Jopseph’s also, Gearoid Lynch has graduated very well to the senior ranks with Ballinakill this year.
Following the dissolution of Slieve Margy, he is now fully on board with Ballinakill and will certainly add something different to their team this year as they look to reach the semi finals once more.
Castletown – Conor Walsh
A member of the Laois minor and victorious Celtic Challenge squads last year, Conor Walsh should make an appearance for Castletown as the competition progresses.
A very physical player despite his young age, he will be well able to contend with the demands of senior hurling and his graduation to adult level comes at an important time for a Castletown team who have lost their Gaels.
Camross – Eoin Dowling
Camross have brought through an array of talent of the last few years with the likes of Eoin Gaughan, Mark Dowling, Andrew Mortimer and Oisin Bennett all playing big roles in their back-to-back championship wins.
And another player who can certainly force his way into the senior team this year is Eoin Dowling. Younger brother of Mark, he is a powerful defender that played for the Laois U-20s this year.
Clough Ballacolla – Mark Hennessy
Clough-Ballacolla teamed up with Mountrath to win the minor hurling championship last year and one player who has made the step up seamlessly from that grade is Mark Hennessy.
He has been deadly in the league for both the senior and intermediate Clough-Ballacolla teams and with John A Delaney plus Willie Hyland suspended, he may well get the nod from the start against Abbeyleix.
Rathdowney-Errill – Thep Fitzpatrick
Another of last year’s county minors who has excelled at adult level this year is Thep Fitzpatrick.
The Rathdowney-Errill man scored freely in his side’s IHC R1 win over Borris-Kilcotton and repeated the feat in the recent Division 1A league final win over Clough-Ballacolla. May not start the year with the seniors but we would be very surprised if he doesn’t make his debut as the competition progresses.
Portlaoise – Niall Carey
A dual county minor in 2018, Niall Carey is a player who will also be hoping to make his senior debut at some stage over the coming months.
Another very athletic player, Carey’s hard-working nature will be required for Portlaoise if they are to stay up at this level following their promotion last year.
Borris-Kilcotton – Dean Carey
Borris-Kilcotton were edged out by Camross in the semi final last year and they will be hoping to go one step further this year.
Midfielder Dean Carey has nailed down a starting spot on the team this year through the league and if he can continue the good form he has shown, he may just help push them to the next level.