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Ciaran Clarke has been in good scoring form for Antrim.

Ciaran Clarke has been in good scoring form for Antrim.

Ring, Rackard, and Meagher Cup previews

By Colm Shalvey

The final pairings are set to be decided in the Christy Ring, Nicky Rackard, and Lory Meagher Cups this Saturday.

Christy Ring Cup

The first Christy Ring Cup semi-final is an all-Leinster clash between Carlow and Wicklow.

2008 and 2009 champions Carlow, who were relegated back to the Christy Ring last year, recovered from being pipped in extra-time by Antrim to claim comfortable wins over Mayo and Kildare. Wicklow took the direct route to the last four with narrow victories against London and Kildare. Both of these teams lost finals in this year’s Allianz Hurling League, with Carlow being edged out by Antrim in Division 2A and Wicklow falling short against Meath in Division 2B.

Carlow have the competition’s current top scorer in Denis Murphy, who has hit 0-26 in just two appearances, while Marty Kavanagh, James Doyle, Paul Coady and Kevin McDonald have also been in form and Craig Wall is line to return from suspension. Christy Moorehouse has 1-55 to his name in League and Championship this year for Wicklow, who will also need big performances from Andy O’Brien, Daniel Staunton, and Diarmuid Masterson if they are to reach the decider for the first time since 2012.

Later on Saturday evening is an Ulster derby between Antrim and Down in Cushendall.

These neighbours met in Round 2A, where Antrim ran out convincing winners at Saturday’s venue. The Saffrons, who have already lifted two titles this year via the Ulster SHC and the Allianz Hurling League Division 2A, edged out Carlow after extra-time in their opening game. Down’s defeat against Antrim was sandwiched by wins over Roscommon and London, with the latter being a noteworthy result against a team who had been a tier above them in the league.

Ciarán Clarke and Niall McKenna have led the scoring for Antrim, with the latter set to return after missing the last game due to his wedding, while Conor Johnston, John Dillon and Paul Shiels could also play key roles. Down should be able to call on Conor Woods, Paul Sheehan, Danny Toner, Connor O’Prey, and Dónal Hughes to spearhead their challenge, but Eoghan Sands, whose two goals proved crucial against London, is suspended.

There is also a Christy Ring Cup Connacht derby on Saturday, with Mayo and Roscommon battling it out to stay in the second tier.

This is the second relegation play-off between these teams this year, as they also finished in the bottom two of the Allianz Hurling League Division 2B. Mayo, whose only group win also came at the expense of Roscommon, won that play-off by two points. Mayo were edged out by Kildare, before losing heavily to Carlow, while Roscommon had no answers to Down or London.

Mayo should have top marksman Kenny Feeney available along with the likes of Joseph McManus, Cathal Freeman and two players returning from suspension in David Kenny and Kieran McDermott, but they will be without dual stars Keith Higgins and Fergal Boland. Roscommon will need big displays from Shane Curley, Robbie and Gary Fallon and Naas Connaughton if they are to get their first win of 2017.

Nicky Rackard Cup

There is an all-Ulster line-up in the Nicky Rackard Cup semi-finals, starting with Tyrone v Armagh in Carrickmore.

Tyrone have already won two derbies en route to this stage; seeing off Monaghan by the narrowest of margins and Donegal in a surprisingly one-sided tie. Mattie Lennon’s side are aiming to qualify for a third final of this year after they fell short in the Allianz Hurling League Division 3A and the Ulster SHC Shield. Armagh were turned over by Donegal in the first round, but straightforward wins against Louth and Longford put them back on track. The 2010 winners were relegated in the league despite putting in some competitive performances after their step up to Division IIA.

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, Conor Seán Óg Grogan and Brendan Begley. David Carvill and Connor Corvan have been pointing the way for Armagh, with the former leading the scoring charts on 1-23. The likes of Nathan Curry and Ryan Gaffney have returned from injuries, although Shea Gaffney and Stephen Renaghan are still ruled out as they bid to make a third consecutive final.

Competition favourites Derry travel to Inniskeen to take on Monaghan.

Derry, who are in the Rackard Cup for the first time since they won it back in 2006, saw off Louth before cutting loose against Longford last time out. Monaghan lost by a point to Tyrone, but they knocked Donegal out at the quarter-final stage. Derry were a tier above their opponents during the spring and they dished out a comprehensive beating to an understrength Monaghan side on their way to winning the Ulster SHC Shield.

Ruairí Convery, Brendan Rogers, Alan Grant, Brian Cassidy and Gerald Bradley have all been in scoring form for Derry, who will also be hoping for big displays from Liam Óg and Kevin Hinphey as they seek to make a quick return to the second tier. Monaghan could be hit hard by the absences of Dónal Meegan and Peter Treanor, increasing their reliance on Mark Treanor, Fergal Rafter, Brian McGuigan, and Éanna Mac Suibhne.

Lory Meagher Cup

The big game in the last round of group games in the Lory Meagher Cup sees Leitrim host local rivals Sligo.

Leitrim have to win to retain any chance of qualifying for the final, while Sligo only need a draw to ensure they progress. Leitrim have won two games – against Cavan and Lancashire – and lost two against Fermanagh and Warwickshire, who are the only team to have beaten Sligo, with wins over Lancashire, Cavan and Fermanagh leaving them in second place. Sligo ran out seven-point winners over Leitrim in the Allianz Hurling League Division 3B.

Sligo are within touching distance of a third successive final and they are set to welcome talisman Keith Raymond back to fitness to join the in-form Cormac Behan, Kevin Gilmartin and Joe McHugh. Leitrim will need Pádraig O’Donnell, Clement Cunniffe, Zak Moradi, and Liam Moreton on top of their game.

Table-toppers Warwickshire are up against fellow ‘Exiles’ side Lancashire.

Warwickshire are already through to their first final since they captured the Lory Meagher in 2013, but they will be hoping to keep their momentum going with a fifth straight win. Meanwhile, Lancashire need to win and hope Sligo lose if they are to come into the equation. Free-scoring Warwickshire have already beaten Cavan, Sligo, Fermanagh and Leitrim by an average margin of almost 14 points per game. Lancashire hadn’t won a game in the competition until this year, but they have seen off Fermanagh and Cavan, while losing to Sligo and Leitrim.

Former Antrim star Liam Watson has been in prolific form all year for Warwickshire, amassing 5-27 in this competition to date, while Shane Caulfield, Emmet McCabe, and Paul Uniacke have also been contributing well. Lancashire are powered by the tournament’s top scorer Ronan Crowley, who has a remarkable 2-51 to his name, with Seán Power, Nathan Unwin, and Darragh O’Brien also to the fore.

Fermanagh and Cavan complete their campaigns with a derby in Lisbellaw.

2015 champions Fermanagh have had a disappointing run, with their only win to date coming via a strong finish against Leitrim on the opening day, followed by defeats against Lancashire, Warwickshire and Sligo. Cavan have made their return to senior inter-county hurling after a six-year gap, but they have so far been unable to pick up any points from games against Warwickshire, Leitrim, Sligo and Lancashire, although they went closest to getting off the mark last weekend in Manchester.

Seán Corrigan has hit almost half of Fermanagh’s scores (4-27 out of 10-50). Shea Curran has managed 2-7 for the Erne County, who will hope that Ryan Bogue and JP McGarry can also play central roles. Colum Sheanon notched 1-6 in round four for Cavan, who will be looking to Diarmuid Cahill and the returning Kevin Conneely and Seán Keating to show the way.


Saturday, May 20

Christy Ring Cup Semi -Finals**

Carlow v Wicklow, Netwatch Cullen Park, 3pm

Antrim v Down, Cushendall, 5pm

Christy Ring Cup Relegation Play-Off

Mayo v Roscommon, Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada, 5pm

Nicky Rackard Cup Semi-Finals

Tyrone v Armagh, Carrickmore, 3pm

Monaghan v Derry, Inniskeen, 5pm

Lory Meagher Cup Round 5

Fermanagh v Cavan, Lisbellaw, 1pm

Leitrim v Sligo, Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada, 3pm

Lancashire v Warwickshire, Old Bedians Sports Ground, Manchester, 3pm 

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