Tasty clashes in Bank of Ireland Celtic Challenge
By Damian Lawlor
After last week's dish of intriguing local derbies the third round of the 2017 Bank of Ireland Celtic Challenge continues on Wednesday evening.
A week ago saw high profile next-door neighbour clashes in both Waterford and Wexford and this time around the meeting of East Cork and South Tipperary is interesting as two in-form side lock horns in Group E.
The Group D meeting of Kilkenny Amber and Wexford Gold, meanwhile, should be fascinating too as will the border rivalry of North Cork and Limerick City in Group B.
In Group F, Louth take on Cavan at Cuchulainns (7.30pm) and Cavan will be eyeing up another win here after shooting 5-14 against Monaghan in round two.
Conor Masterson is in a fine vein of form for Cavan and the same can be said for Jack Barry, Philip McCabe, Mark Sexton, Brían O'Rourke, and Jesse Holland.
Monaghan's management team Aidan Morgan and Derek Maguire introduced players from the bench throughout the second half and they will be hoping that they can get back in the groove against Longford themselves. Padraig McGahon and Hugh Brennan will be the players they will look to for inspiration against the Longford side.
Meanwhile, South Tipperary play East Cork in Midleton tomorrow evening and South Tipp mentor Fergus McGrath says that the level of sportsmanship he has seen from players in this competition is a standout point for him.
"I find this to be very impressive," he says. "The single coaching session per game model is also working well. It lends itself to the development of a tightly knit group where credible short term goals in the form of meaningful matches are possible.
"We have a good representation of players from most of the area that we represent.
"The competition challenges you as a coach as well. Typically, a coach would have different phases of training for different times of the year, but here it's practically full on from day one once a panel is selected.
“The typical early season or pre-season strength training, aerobic training or flexibility training takes a major backseat and, as coaches, we are dealing primarily with skill, speed and tactics and the associated psychological preparation. It's a big change from what you might call the traditional way of preparing teams and can be testing at times. It’s a great experience, though, and an excellent learning opportunity.”
As Sligo face into their Group G match against Donegal in Ballyshannon, their manager Daithí Mac Fhlaithimh says it is heartening to be part of a rejuvenation of Sligo underage hurling.
"There had been a real development of intercounty youth hurling here in recent times," he says. "From the u14s right up to the current Celtic Challenge Squad. The 2016 season was undoubtedly an immense period for Sligo underage hurling with the noteworthy achievement of the u17 Panel reaching the latter stages of the prestigious Celtic Challenge Competition.
"Many heads were turned in the ‘traditional’ hurling counties of Ireland at the success of the Sligo lads," Mac Fhlaithimh adds.
"Admiration is no longer what Sligo Underage Hurlers nor the Sligo Hurling Community seeks however. The foundations laid down by Benny Kenny with last year’s Celtic Challenge Squad are now there to be built upon. The challenge for the Sligo Celtic Challenge Squad this year is a much greater proposition. The likes of Galway Tribesmen, Kildare Cadets and Roscommon are but a few of the talented hurling outfits that are operating out of Group G, standing steadfastly in the way of the boys emulating last year’s successes.
"The realisation that Sligo must up their game and challenge these traditionally ‘stronger’ hurling counties has been a pre-requisite for the trials and drafting of players into the current squad."
Mac Fhlaithimh says Sligo were given a ‘first half’ lesson in hurling in Round 1 against the Galway Tribesmen, but adds that the second half performance proved more inspiring and true to the current ideals and form of Sligo hurling standards.
"Those same standards were upheld in Round 2 against Kildare Cadets, with a convincing win over the Lilywhites, beating a side that fielded some very talented and serious hurling prospects," he says.
"The Kildare win showed encouraging signs and will no doubt give great confidence going forward. Donegal now stand in the way of further progression in the competition but with the continued hard work and diligence, as exhibited in the previous 90 minutes of hurling, a good performance is expected once again.
"As manager, I believe that the performance will always look after the result.”