Ring, Rackard, and Meagher Cup previews
By Colm Shalvey
The 2017 Christy Ring, Nicky Rackard and Lory Meagher Cups get underway this weekend, with full rounds in all three championships.
CHRISTY RING CUP
The pick of the first-round games in the Christy Ring Cup could well be the clash of Carlow and Antrim.
For Carlow, it’s a first appearance in the second tier since they won this title back in 2009, while Antrim are seeking to get back to the final after losing to Meath in an epic that went to a replay after no little controversy last year. These teams contested the Allianz Hurling League Division 2A Final on the first day of this month, when Antrim won by three points to earn promotion. The previous group game between the sides ended in a draw, so another close one is in prospect on Saturday.
Neil McManus, Conor Johnston, Ciarán Clarke, Niall McKenna, and Paul Shiels should play key roles for Antrim, who go into this on the back of winning a 16th consecutive Ulster SHC title. Carlow will be hoping for Paul Coady, Martin Kavanagh, John Michael Nolan, Craig Wall, and Chris Nolan to lead their challenge.
Mayo make their return to the Christy Ring Cup with a home game against 2014 winners Kildare, who have reached at least the semi-finals in three of the last four years.
Mayo were relegated in 2015, but they bounced back to win the Nicky Rackard Cup last year, before defeating Derry in the play-off. They will have their work cut out to make a winning start, however, after a league campaign where they needed to win another play-off against Roscommon to retain their Division 2B status, while Kildare only missed out on the Division 2A Final on head-to-head records after finishing level on points with eventual winners Antrim.
Former Kilkenny star John Mulhall and Limerick native David Reidy bolster a Kildare side also led by the likes of Paul Divilly and Jack Sheridan, while Mayo will need big performances from the prolific Kenny Feeney, Shane Boland, and returning dual stars Keith Higgins and Fergal Boland.
Down welcome Roscommon to Ballycran for the early throw-in (1pm).
Down won the Christy Ring Cup in 2013, while they have been beaten in the semi-finals in both of the last two years. Roscommon made the step up last year after winning the 2015 Nicky Rackard Cup, but their campaign ended with a seven-point quarter-final win against Saturday’s opponents. Down also won when the teams met just over two months ago in the Allianz Hurling League Division 2B, where both ended up disappointed, with the Mourne County missing out on a place in the final and Roscommon dropping back to Division 3A.
Danny Toner, Conor Woods, Paul Sheehan and Gareth Johnson are among the main men for Down, with Roscommon hoping that Robbie and Gary Fallon, Naos Connaughton and Éamon Flanagan can point the way.
Sunday’s fixture sees Wicklow welcome 2012 champions London to Aughrim.
London just avoided relegation from Division 2A of the Allianz Hurling League on score difference ahead of Armagh, while Wicklow reached the Division 2B Final, only to lose out to Meath.
Christy Moorehouse and Andy O’Brien were in prolific form all spring for Wicklow, who will also need Diarmuid Masterson and Pádraig Doyle on their game. London are dependent on Kevin O’Loughlin for the bulk of their scores, with the help of Enda Cooney and free-taking goalkeeper Eoin Kelly.
NICKY RACKARD CUP
Five of the six teams in action in the Nicky Rackard Cup are from Ulster, with two provincial derbies on the agenda.
Two former winners meet in Letterkenny when Donegal face Armagh.
Armagh are bidding to become the first team to win the Nicky Rackard Cup for a third time after losing back-to-back finals in the last two years; having beaten Donegal at this stage 12 months ago. 2013 champions Donegal are looking to push on after winning the Allianz Hurling League Division 3A title, while Armagh were consigned to relegation despite putting in some competitive performances after their step up to Division 2A. Neither of these teams could match up to Antrim in the recent Ulster SHC, but their sights will be on a good run in this Championship.
Donegal now have former Armagh forward Declan Coulter in their ranks, along with Tipperary native Davin Flynn and homegrown talent such as Danny Cullen and Lee Henderson. Armagh have been missing Shea Gaffney and Stephen Renaghan, but they should be able to call on the likes of Cathal and David Carvill, Conor Corvan and Nathan Curry.
Castleblayney hosts a local derby between Monaghan and Tyrone.
These neighbours haven’t clashed in the Nicky Rackard Cup since 2013, but their paths have regularly crossed in the league, including a crucial final-round game last month, where Tyrone won to deny Monaghan, who had won the sides’ previous meeting, a place in the Division IIIA decider on score difference. 2014 Rackard Cup winners Tyrone lost that game to Donegal and they were beaten in another final last weekend, despite giving Derry a scare in the Ulster SH Shield.
Tyrone star Damien Casey has been this competition’s top scorer for the last three years in a row and he will again spearhead his team’s challenge, with support from Matthew Mulgrew, Aidan Kelly, Seán Óg Grogan and Brendan Begley. Dónal Meegan, Peter Treanor, Brian McGuigan and Stephen Lambe could play central roles for Monaghan, who will also hope to have Mark Treanor available.
Derry will be strongly fancied to make a winning return to the Nicky Rackard Cup after a gap of more than a decade when they travel to Dowdallshill to face Louth.
Derry haven’t been in the third-tier championship since they won it back in 2006 and they went all the way to the Christy Ring Cup Final as recently as 2015, only to end up relegated with a depleted team 12 months later. The Oak Leaf County finished mid-table in Division 2B of the Allianz Hurling League, before winning the Ulster Shield last week, while Louth were unable to pick up a point in Division 3A. The Wee County have never won the Rackard Cup, despite reaching four finals between 2005 and 2012. They were relegated in 2015, but bounced back to win the 2016 Lory Meagher Cup.
Ruairí Convery is the main source of scores for Derry, who will also be hoping for big displays from Oisín McCloskey, Alan Grant and Cian and Naoise Waldron, who won All-Ireland club medals with Cuala last month. Louth will need big displays from Diarmuid Murphy, Shane Callan, Gerard Smyth and Liam Dwan.
LORY MEAGHER CUP
Cavan return to competitive senior hurling action for the first time in six years when they host Warwickshire in the opening round of the Lory Meagher Cup.
Cavan haven’t entered a senior hurling team since 2011 and their first game back pits them against the 2017 Allianz Hurling League Division 3B runners-up. Warwickshire only lost that league final after extra-time against Longford, while they won this championship in 2013.
Warwickshire have an ace in the pack in Antrim’s most recent All-Star nominee Liam Watson, while Shane Caulfield, Conor Robins and Seán Hennessey also have plenty to offer. Anthony and Darren Sheridan, Ronan O’Hagan and Fiachra Hughes could be to the fore as Cavan look to get up and running.
2015 Lory Meagher Cup winners Fermanagh face Leitrim in Enniskillen.
Both of these teams are attempting to recover from a disappointing league, where they could only manage one win each in Division 3B. Leitrim won on Fermanagh soil last month, but despite having injury doubts over Declan McGarry and John Duffy, the Ulster side are confident of getting off to a winning start.
Ryan Bogue, JP McGarry, Seán Corrigan are among the main men for Fermanagh, with Leitrim dependent on the form of Pádraig O’Donnell, Clement Cunniffe and Liam and Colm Moreton.
The early throw-in sees Sligo welcome Lancashire to Markievicz Park.
Sligo lost out in high-scoring finals in both of the last two years, so they will be doubly determined to get their name on the trophy this time. The Connacht side missed out on a top-two place in the Allianz Hurling League Division 3B, while Lancashire haven’t played a competitive fixture since a Patrick Duggan-inspired side got knocked out in the Lory Meagher group stages last year.
Keith Raymond is Sligo’s talisman, with support from Cormac Behan, Liam Reidy, Tony O’Kelly-Lynch and former Clare hurler Alan Markham.
Saturday, April 22
Christy Ring Cup Round 1**
Down v Roscommon, Ballycran, 1pm
Carlow v Antrim, Netwatch Cullen Park, 3pm
Mayo v Kildare, Ballina, 3pm
Nicky Rackard Cup Round 1
Donegal v Armagh, Letterkenny, 1pm
Monaghan v Tyrone, Castleblayney, 3pm
Louth v Derry, Dowdallshill, 3pm
Lory Meagher Cup Round 1
Sligo v Lancashire, Markievicz Park, 12.30pm
Cavan v Warwickshire, Kingspan Breffni Park, 2pm
Fermanagh v Leitrim, Brewster Park, 3pm
Sunday, April 23
Christy Ring Cup Round 1**
Wicklow v London, Joule Park, Aughrim, 1pm