The Irish World Senior Hurling Championship Preview
By Damian Dolan
The 2018 Irish World Senior Hurling Championship promises to be one of the most intriguing for many years.
Changes to the structure of this year’s competition have made sure that every game will almost certainly carry plenty of meaning, and the Irish World is delighted to be the title sponsor of this year’s senior hurling championship.
The pre-existing and long-established structure of a single group ‘round robin’ with semi-finals is gone, to be replaced by a format that will glean four teams from six over an initial three rounds.
Those four teams will then contest a ‘round robin’, from which the top two will progress to this year’s final.
It’s an alternative approach which has already been the subject of much discussion, and is sure to continue to prove a topic of debate as the championship plays out.
Kilburn Gaels will be out to retain the trophy they won at McGovern Park last year, when they defeated Robert Emmetts in final, and win the title for a fourth time.
While Kilburn look like the team to beat, Robert Emmetts will be out for revenge after that loss denied them a coveted three-in-a-row.
St Gabriels, after losing out to Emmetts in the 2016 and 2015 finals, will be hoping to end their five-year wait to lift the trophy.
Sean Treacys, who will be hoping to mark their 60th Anniversary in style, and Cuchulainns will have their eyes on reaching the ‘round robin’ stage.
It will also be interesting to see what impact last year’s intermediate champions, Brothers Pearse, can have now they have a seat back at the senior table. With no relegation from senior this year, the Pearses may be looking to do more than just consolidate.
We take a look at six clubs who’ll be vying to be named London senior hurling champions for 2018.
Manager – Tom Bergin
Captain – Stephen Lambert
Key man – Brian Regan – Like Kevin Reid for the Pearses, the London captain is Kilburn’s rock at the heart of their defence. The full back was outstanding for the Exiles this year throughout a tough National League campaign and took that form into the Christy Ring.
One to watch – Aaron Sheehan – From Mallow in Cork, the corner forward caught the eye when scoring 0-13 (6fs, 2 65s), in London’s Christy Ring Cup semi-final win over Wicklow and could set the senior championship on fire if he can reproduce that sort of form.
Last year, Sheehan helped Mallow reach the Cork Premier Intermediate Hurling Championship final, having scored 1-5 in their semi-final win over Cloyne. Another to shine for London was Clareman Colin Nelson.
London SHC titles – 3
Last London SHC title – 2017
2017 – Champions
Players out – Keith Kennedy, Niall Coen.
Players in – Aaron Sheehan (Mallow, Cork), Colin Nelson (Feakle, Clare), Henry Vaughan (Ogennelloe, Clare).
Kilburn Gaels manager Tom Bergin: “Good teams win titles, but great ones retain them.
“A lot of it can be down to luck and keeping players. You can have a great team, and then lose five or six players for the following year. This year, we’ve only lost two key players and hopefully that stands us in good stead.
“The goal is obviously to try and retain the title, but there’s a lot of hurling to be done. The new championship format means there can be no slip-ups.
“And we have a few injury concerns. Aaron Sheehan, Conor Hickey and Henry Vaughan are all injured, and Conor and Henry won’t be back for Round 1.
“Yes, we’re the champions but the Gabriels have been busy recruiting, they’ve got a lot of good hurlers and they’ve been going well. Killian Burke will be a big player for the Emmetts.”
Manager – Kevin McMullan
Captain – Gary Hill
Key man – Killian Burke – The former Cork senior hurler was sensational for London in their way to the Christy Ring Cup final. A class act at wing back, he could always be relied upon to chip in with a few scores for Fergus McMahon’s Exiles. It will be interesting to see where Emmetts employ Burke, to get the best out of him.
One to watch – Martin Fitzpatrick – The centre forward from Conaghy Shamrocks in Kilkenny is on the comeback trail having suffered a cruciate knee ligament injury in the 2016 county final win over St Gabriels. He scored one of their three goals that day, and there are impressive noises coming out of the Emmetts camp that Fitzpatrick could make a huge impact this year.
London SHC titles – 13
Last London SHC title – 2016
2017 – Runners up
Players out – Paul Horkan, Aidan Ryan.
Players in – Killian Burke (Middleton, Cork), Saul McCaughan (Ballycastle, Antrim), John Ahern (Russel Rovers, Cork).
Robert Emmetts manager Kevin McMullan: “Last year was disappointing; we certainly didn’t perform in the final. But Kilburn did well, they were hungrier on the day and it showed.
“It was a bad day and we’ll try and rectify that this year. But it’s going to be difficult; Kilburn are very strong and so too are the Gabriels.
“We’ll be practically playing the London team when we play Kilburn, and London did brilliantly. Gabriels have signed a lot of good hurlers and they’re very young and very fit.
“But I’m confident enough that we can beat anyone on any given day. It’s the strongest team we’ve had since I’ve been manager, but then everybody’s got a lot stronger this year.”
Manager – Thomas Lally
Captain – Neil Rogers
Key man – Stephen Lohan – He joins the Gabriel’s this year from Ballygar in Galway, having already played a part in the London hurlers march to a Christy Ring Cup final. The forward will bring a lot of experience to Gabriels, having played his club hurling in Cork for Blaney in the Premier IHC for the last few years. He played minor for Galway.
They’ll also look to Shane Lawless (Kilnadeema/Leitrim, Galway) who starred for London in the Christy Ring, including scoring 2-1 in their semi-final win over Wicklow, and Mike Ivors (Ballingarry, Tipperary).
One to watch – David O’Gorman – The Kilkenny-native is a seasoned hurler with the Gabriels. The midfielder has been a consistent performer for the club and is a “good all-rounder”.
London SHC titles – 16
Last London SHC title – 2013
2017 – Semi-finalists
Players out – Kevin Coen, Enda Cooney.
Players in – Lee Murphy (Padraig Pearses, Galway), Shane Lawless (Kilnadeema/Leitrim, Galway), Stephen Lohan (Ballygar, Galway), Brian Gardiner (Kilnadeema/Leitrim, Galway), Anthony Hands (Oranmore-Maree, Galway), Brian Quinn (Cappatagle, Galway), Cormac Thornton (Barna, Galway).
St Gabriels manager Thomas Lally: “We didn’t cover ourselves in glory last year, so we’d like to improve on that and we’d hope to make the round robin stage.
“We’re not looking at anything past that. We want to be there come the business end of the year. But we’re not setting any targets, just to improve on last year.
“We’ve lost two very good players in Kevin and Enda, as well as our hurler of the year last year, Darragh Skehill, to a cruciate injury, so we’ve had to stabilise again. We’ve a lot of new players and it takes time to gel. As we stand we’re well behind Emmetts and Kilburn.”
Managers – Noel O’Meara, Johnny Murphy, Shane Gilbert
Captain – Dave Bardon
Key man – Conor Ailis – the Croom clubman played inter-county for Limerick before joining the Treacys in time for the start of last year’s championship. The half forward won a Munster SHC title with Limerick in 2013, to add to a Munster U21 championship in 2011, and with a full year now under his belt could be set to take the championship by storm.
Will form a strong spine alongside the likes of Dave Bardon, Darren Moore, and Kevin O’Loughlin.
One to watch – Padraig Treacy – the centre half back from Kilkenny is a really solid performer for the south Londoners. Good under the dropping ball, he reads the game well and is a good freetaker. Another to keep an eye on is Kieran Norris – the back is one of the unsung heroes of the team and has been in good form.
London SHC titles – 5
Last London SHC title – 2002
2017 – Group stage
Players out – N/A
Players in – Thomas Nolan (Patrickswell, Limerick), Sean Meaney (Tullogher Rosbercon, Kilkenny), Robert Rice (Brownstown, Westmeath).
Sean Treacys chairperson Brian Leonard: “We’ve an excellent management team in place and we’re set up well for the year ahead. We’ve got some good structures in place and good people helping out in the background such as our physio Louise Murray and secretary Mick Walsh.
“We had a lot of new faces come in last year and it only really clicked towards the end when we were in a relegation play-off with Fr Murphy’s.
“We’re very happy with the panel. It’s on a par with last year, if not a little stronger given we’re 12 months wiser. We haven’t lost any players and everyone knows their position and their role that little bit better this time round.
“It’s also the club’s 60th Anniversary this year and we’re hoping to have a good one.”
Manager – Bernard Gaffney
Captain – Gary Walsh
Key man – Oisin Gately – The only Cuchulainns player on the London panel which reached the Christy Ring Cup final, Gately is a dominating centre back from Courcey Rovers in Cork who can control and dictate a game. A good distributer of the ball, he’s also blessed with an excellent first touch. Played premier intermediate hurling in Cork.
As well as Gatley, Cuchulainns will look to Gary Walsh, a strong presence at full back who has been consistency personified for the club.
One to watch – Fionn Byrne – The former Leinster rugby youth star is a free-taking half forward or corner forward. Possesses a good first touch and is powerful and quick over five yards. After a few years plagued by injury, this will be his first real run at it with Cuchulainns and after reaching the semi-finals last year the club will be hoping he can help propel them to Round 4.
London SHC titles – 4
Last London SHC title – 1967
2017 – Semi-finalists
Players out – N/A
Players in – N/A
Cuchulainns manager Bernard Gaffney: “It’s going to be tough this year. There are a few very strong teams in the competition and the standard has just continued to rise over the last number of years in London.
“We’ve be training as hard as anyone this year and I just hope we can put in a good performance when we go out on the pitch that reflects the efforts that lads have been making in training.
“We’re under no illusions however, the bar has been set quite high by others and we need to strive to get up to that level.”
Manager – John Paul Rea
Captain – Kevin Reid
Key man – Kevin Reid – Unflappable and composed, the centre back from the renowned Fenians club in Kilkenny was a rock for London on route to the Christy Ring final, and the Pearses intermediate success last year. Pearses will look for another big contribution from Reid if they’re to make an impact on their return to senior ranks. Can score a free as well.
One to watch – Stephen Page – Played wing forward last year, but his move to midfield this year has been an inspired one. A seasoned campaigner for the Pearses, Page is “tough” and “aggressive” despite not being the biggest. But a “big heart” could see the former Galway U21 hurler, who win a Christy Ring with Kerry, have a big impact. He’ll also provide a scoring element from the middle of the pitch.
London SHC titles – 10
Last London SHC title – 1998
2017 – Intermediate Hurling Championship winner’s
Players out – Niall Murphy, Paul Egan.
Players in – Andrew Robinson (Kinnitty, Offaly), James McCambridge (Shane O’Neill’s, Antrim).
Brothers Pearse manager John Paul Rea: “We’ve pretty much the same team as last year, so making it through to Round 4 will be our goal. If we can make it through then we’ll see how it goes from there.”