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Preview: This weekend's Ring, Rackard, and Meagher Cup action

The Christy Ring Cup. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

The Christy Ring Cup. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

The 2024 Christy Ring, Nicky Rackard and Lory Meagher Cups get underway this weekend.

Christy Ring Cup

The first game of the Christy Ring Cup sees Sligo host Kildare on Saturday.

Kildare are bidding for their third Christy Ring title in the space of five years after dropping back down from the Joe McDonagh Cup and they go into this on the back of an encouraging Allianz Hurling League run, where they narrowly missed out on a place in the Division 2A semi-final. Sligo, who have established themselves at Christy Ring level in recent years and went close to making the top two last year, just missed out on a quick return to Division 2B when they lost the 3A final against Mayo.

After taking the reins from fellow Kilkenny man David Herity, Kildare manager Brian Dowling can call on players of the calibre of Jack Sheridan, James Burke, Cian Boran and David Qualter.

The absence of Andrew Kilcullen has been felt by Sligo, with Gerard and Tony O’Kelly-Lynch (two of a set of five brothers on Stephen Sheil’s panel), Tomás Cawley and Conor Hanniffy now shouldering much of the scoring burden.

Tyrone host London in Dungannon on Sunday.

Tyrone managed to hold their own at this level last year, following their 2022 Nickey Rackard success, while they also had a good league campaign this spring, reaching the Division 2B final, where they fell short against Derry. Just a single point and one place in the standings separated these teams in the league, while London have won both meetings of the sides in the last 12 months.

With Stephen McGarry replacing Michael McShane, Tyrone have continued their upward curve, led by the free-scoring Aidy Kelly, alongside the likes of Lorcan Devlin, Rory Weir and Seán Óg Grogan. The Exiles have their own prolific marksman in Jack Goulding, while Seán Glynn, Niall Broderick and Eoghan McHugh can also contribute.

Sunday also sees 2023 runners-up Derry make the long trek to Wicklow.

Derry have been in two of the last three Christy Ring finals and they go into this campaign on the back of last month’s Allianz Hurling League Division 2B success. Wicklow are back at this level after a brief stay in the Nickey Rackard, which they won at the first attempt last June. The teams ended up at opposite ends of the league table, but Wicklow did manage to claim a draw in their clash five weeks ago.

Cormac O’Doherty remains a consistent source of scores for Derry, but they have managed to share the load better so far this year, with Ruairí Ó Mianáin, Corey O’Reilly, Darragh McGilligan and former Antrim player Christy McNaughton also chipping in.

Wicklow had turbulent preparation for the league when Casey O’Brien stepped down as manager, with Jonathan O’Neill coming in. Luke Evans, Seánie Germaine and Padraig Doran should be key to a new-look Wicklow side.

Nickey Rackard Cup

The Nickey Rackard Cup gets underway with Roscommon v Louth on Saturday.

Runners-up in 2022, Roscommon will be chasing their third Nickey Rackard title. The Rossies were unable to build on a strong start to their Allianz Hurling League Division 2B campaign, but in Paddy and Robbie Fallon and Mickey Joe Egan, they have the scoring power to get back to winning ways.

Louth’s league followed a similar path, as they drop into the bottom two in Division 3A on the last day. Darren Geoghegan continues to lead the scoring charts for Trevor Hilliard’s men, who have been boosted by the addition of Cork native John Casey and former Offaly goalkeeper Conor Clancy this year.

The opening day also features an Ulster derby between two former champions in Armagh and Donegal.

Armagh have reached more Nickey Rackard finals than anyone else, winning two of their seven appearances at that stage, but they had to battle to avoid relegation from Division IIIA last month. Donegal top the Nickey Rackard roll of honour with three titles and only a single puck of the ball separated them from Wicklow in last year’s final. They had a decent run in the league, before falling just short of neighbours Tyrone in the Division 2B semi-final.

Gerard Gilmore and Liam McKinney have been in prolific form for Donegal this year, while Wexford-native goalkeeper Luke White has established himself as a key player over recent seasons. Long-serving Armagh duo Nathan Curry and Eoin McGuinness have retired, with Tiarnán Nevin, Paul Gaffney and top scorer Alex O’Boyle leading their challenge.

Sunday’s Nickey Rackard game sees Mayo host Monaghan.

Christy Ring Cup finalists as recently as 2022, Mayo were relegated to the Nickey Rackard last year, but they appear to be back on an upward trajectory after six straight wins saw them lift the Division 3A title. After a maiden Lory Meagher Cup success last year, Monaghan ended up at the opposite end of the Division 3A table to Sunday’s opponents, who have had two comprehensive wins in this fixture in just over 12 months.

Cormac and Adrian Phillips, Liam Lavin, Eoin Delaney and Shane Boland have all been chipping in with their share of scores for Mayo, while Monaghan will need big performances from Niall Arthur, Niall Garland and Thomas Hughes.

Lory Meagher Cup

All three Lory Meagher Cup first-round games take place on Saturday, starting with Cavan v Warwickshire.

Division 3A semi-finalists Cavan will be confident that they can bring their league form into the Lory Meagher, where they reached the decider in 2021. Two-time Lory Meagher winners Warwickshire also had a strong league, clinching the Division 3B title.

Waterford native Liam O’Brien, Rían Delaney and Kilkenny duo Canice Maher and Nicky Kenny should lead the way for Cavan, while Warwickshire should be able to call on the likes of Jack Grealish, David Devine, Kevin McKernan and Luke Hands.

2023 runners-up Lancashire are also on their travels to face 2022 finalists Longford.

Lancashire, who fell at the final hurdle against Monaghan last year, had a disappointing league, where their sole point arrived via a draw with Longford in round one. Two-time Lory Meagher winners Longford lost the Division 3B semi-final to Warwickshire last month.

Lancashire’s turnover of players has seen them have to do without some of the main men from last season – including Robin Spencer, Ray McCormack and Conor Madden – increasing their reliance on David Lynch, Eoghan Clifford and Conor Kennedy. Longford will be looking to Reuben Murray, Cathal Mullane, Paddy Lynam and Mícheál Mulcahy for the bulk of their scores.

Fermanagh will bid to bounce back from their Allianz League Division 3B Final loss when they face Leitrim.

After winning all four round-robin games, Fermanagh lost the divisional decider to Warwickshire, but they will still be confident that they can make a quick return to the Nickey Rackard, where a series of narrow defeats proved costly last year. 2019 Lory Meagher champions Leitrim fell just short of qualifying in the group stage in the last two years, but they will need to up their performance levels to overturn a Fermanagh side who won comfortably in Ballinamore during the league.

Luca McCusker, Seán Corrigan, Ryan Bogue and Daniel Teague are key to Fermanagh’s prospects, while Leitrim will need Joe Murray, Gavin O’Hagan, Conor Beirne and veteran keeper Clement Cunniffe at the top of their game.


Saturday, April 13**

Christy Ring Cup Round 1

Sligo v Kildare, Markievicz Park, 1pm

Nickey Rackard Cup Round 1

Roscommon v Louth, Dr. Hyde Park, 3pm

Armagh v Donegal, BOX-IT Athletic Grounds, 5pm

Lory Meagher Cup Round 1

Cavan v Warwickshire, Kingspan Breffni, 12pm

Longford v Lancashire, Glennon Brothers Pearse Park, 2pm

Leitrim v Fermanagh, Drumshanbo, 2pm

Sunday, April 14

Christy Ring Cup Round 1

Tyrone v London, Dungannon, 12pm

Wicklow v Derry, Aughrim, 1pm

Nickey Rackard Cup Round 1

Mayo v Monaghan, Castlebar, 2pm