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A comprehensive look at each team for the 2023 JJ Kavanagh & Sons Carlow Senior Hurling Championship

Joe Nolan
June 27, 2023

“Step aside old school, there’s a new sheriff in town”

With this year’s championship beginning next week, the excitement builds and hope springs again in the hearts of the supporters of our 6 senior clubs to see who will win the O’Connor Cup in 2023. 

Last years’ championship saw the emergence of Ballinkillen and Bagenalstown Gaels as real contenders at the business end of things with the latter breaking a long period of final appearances for MLR after a pulsating semi final win. 

The other semi had its own drama with 2 late St Mullins points sneaking a narrow win after a Craig Wall goal looked likely to have snatched a win for the men in blue and gold. 

The final itself saw a statement of intent from the Saints with a dominant and early show of force to effectively kill the game near the end of the first half. And all that with a certain M Kavanagh amongst the subs! 

Naomh Brid and Naomh Eoin had their moments in the championship, but a lack of consistency cost them their chances, especially from Naomh Eoin who at their best produced great patches in all games but never recovered from a deflating loss to Ballinkillen in round 1. 

So, can we expect the same again this year? Will the group stages throw up some more high tempo games or will we see some cagey affairs as teams time their runs? All will be revealed in the coming weeks!

So, let’s have a look at the clubs and assess where we think it will pan out for them.

St Mullins 

Worthy champions last year and go into this year with a settled panel which has a good mix of experience, balance and probably the most important thing – the know how to win. 

The Saints panel sparkles with top talent and this was evident even more this year in Carlow’s Joe Mcs success. Paddy Boland brought his club form of last year into the county set up and his ability to win primary ball and his impressive eye for goal make him a real versatile asset.  

Himself and big John Doyle will be a handful in either line. Conor Kehoe’s departure to the states will be a loss for his mobility, scoring power and ability to cover an array of positions from 8 to 15 but with James Doyle in top form around that middle third, his loss will be slightly lessened. 

We all know the talent that the Saints possess, and it’s complimented by a steely mentality and overall vision of when to peak – knock out hurling.

I stand corrected but I think in the majority of the championship wins in the last decade or so, they have never or rarely topped the group. It’s a marathon not a sprint!

Every line seems to be bristling with quality currently and its often the “lesser” lights that get them through those big games – Jason O’Neill’s magnificent final display last year (or indeed his winner deep in injury time a few years ago), the crafty Philip Connors, the Walsh’s – never out worked, Paidi O’Shea… the list goes on! 

Tactically they can mix it given the versatility of their players and will pace and directness can hurt any defence. With a tight panel – fielding 3 adult teams means a balancing act in a hectic championship, keeping key players fresh and injury free is key to winning back-to-back titles. 

Mouse is performing as we know he can, and his head is now even more evident as he drops deeper when tough ball needs to be won. Jack was excellent in the knockout games at wing back after an unsettled campaign up to that having featured further up the field. 

His performance against Ferns was as good as he has ever produced and again it shows why he remains a top-class player – the ability to adapt. You would imagine he will anchor one wing with Ger Coady there somewhere in the mix. 

Paudie Kehoe’s positioning in the corner raised eyebrows but he has solidified it and what a ball player to have there. Its hard not to mention his often comrades Paul Doyle – what a leader and role model in our county, and the evergreen John Doran. T – solid! 

Doyle has been a model in how he has worked on his game to add serious pace to his armoury, and he is as comfortable now at 2 or 4 as he is in the middle. With a settled formation and little rebuilding to do, it leaves them in a good starting place. 

They seem to be the team to beat this year and you would imagine they will time their run to be in peak position come early August.

A player of Conor Kehoe’s talent will obviously be a loss especially as his star is very much on the up, but few other clubs are able to manage their resources like St Mullins. 

Being battle hardened and playing without fear – the fear of not having won a county title in a few years like some clubs, gives that freedom and we often see that especially when their backs are to the wall in games. Worthy favourites.

Mount Leinster Rangers

MLR will be hurting after a 3pt semi-final defeat to Bagenalstown Gaels that saw them miss out on an 8th successive county final appearance. The season saw them hit by injuries and other deflections and the concession of the 2 goals was a bridge too far for them to come back from that day. 

The huge success they have had at underage levels is seeping through the team and the connections to the All-Ireland Club appearances begin to lessen. Last year they never got a good run going with the losses we alluded to, yet were only a puck of a ball away from a county final appearance. 

Their talisman is back, and Chris Nolan has had an impressive year on the county front and seems to be back in that free-wheeling form of other years. He has made himself more into a primary ball winner also now and it gives MLR another option to go long and isolate him aerially if needs be. 

Their forward line has 2 young guns now in Evan Kealy and Donagh Murphy who sparkled at various stages throughout last year.

Murphy’s direct running and sharpness makes him a dangerous threat inside. Kealy has been magnificent on the frees and clipped in from play also, so further influential years will be expected from these 2. 

Ted Joyce has had a poor run with injuries but on his day is a game changer and maybe time to focus on these when not involved with county duty will have helped him. Eddie Byrne benefitted also from a break and will still cause headaches with his aerial and playmaking abilities. 

Further back the field MLR have potentially multiple options to look at in midfield/halfback line. Richie Coady is still going strong and is an option in a holding midfield role or maybe back into a deep lying 6 – in his pomp he was the Master of It. 

Diarmuid Byrne is very much in the same mould, and with Kevin McDonald back there with the county this year, it gives a huge platform to build from regardless of who slots in. 

McDonald has probably been too versatile for his own good at times! But his head, temperament and striking make him as dangerous from that deep role as further out the field.

Fiachra Fitzpatrick has been deployed last year in various roles – even as a man marker in the full back line. But surely, he offers more going forward as we’ve seen this year. 

Jon Nolan deployed last year at wingback was a bold move, but it allowed him the best of both worlds and he hit some monsters from there. Ciaran Kavanagh will also look to establish himself as a real go to forward this year. He is dangerous, mobile and capable of winning his own ball but needs to bring that finishing percentage up. 

Throw in the experience of Tony Lawler, the Joyces, Gary Lawlor – all county seniors etc and they will surely be back with vengeance this year.

I think placing those key men will be key to their chances and the return of Michael Doyle will be a huge lift as at times last year they looked in trouble in their full back line and his man marking ability was sorely missed. They will be there or thereabouts as ever.


The last few years have seen great progress for Ballinkillen with them becoming serious contenders and reaching a first county final in 16 years in 2020. With a few v narrow semi final losses in the last few years to St Mullins they possibly feel they need to strike soon if they are to get over the line. 

Since that 2020 final, 8 of the 18 used that featured in the final are not available this year – 2 maybe to return in the future. So, it has been a rebuild and last year saw a first round win spark a run of 4/5 victories and see them qualify for the semi. 

The semi saw a titanic battle with St Mullins, and it was possibly a tale of 2 Walls – Dion playing through the pain barrier of a serious injury and Craig unavailable all year due to work commitments coming on as a sub which ignited a comeback that was cancelled out by 2 late points. 

So where to for this year? With a tight panel evident last year and options scarce, they will be hoping for a good run on the injury front to keep a semi final spot on the cards.

Ciaran Whelan has had hamstring issues all year and his return to the 9/11 spot will be so crucial to dictating play and scoring. Getting him on the ball makes the team tick and his link play is excellent. 

Their back line was solid all year with Thomas Dowling in goal implementing a changed puck out strategy that has certainly upped their retention on their own restarts. 

Dion Wall at 3 was outstanding last year and his physical and hurling presence back there linked to David English at 6 give them a core to rival any contender.

The half back line saw the addition of Eric English whose delivery will be key to his forward line. He may offer an option further up the field this year as they look to beef up their front 6 and it would suit a stickman like him. 

Cormac Lomax and Kevin Kavanagh formed a hardworking and dynamic midfield pairing which supported their forwards throughout. 

With Whelan’s loss and a possibility of Padraig Hynes absence with a hand injury, it leaves a door open for last years county minor captain Shane Kelly to possibly appear at some stage. 

Jamie Wall, Mark Foley, and Sean Murphy will also come into the mix in that middle third. Murphy’s power and aerial ability were evident again last year, and he regularly hit a few points each game. 

He will be a big loss given his suspension for the first game. A bear on the square maybe later in the year?? The inside line threat will mainly come from the pacey Jack Treacy and Craig wall. They will surely look to isolate them inside and use their direct running to hurt defences.

If Treacy becomes more of a finisher he has everything there to be a top-class county forward for years to come. They will need to blood a few new faces again this year and build their panel further to give them the depth to mount another charge over a gruelling and rapid campaign. 

This year might not see them reach the highs of last year but if they can time their run with injuries and peak at the business end, they will cause problems to anyone.

Naomh Eoin

I’ts 2017 since Naomh Eoin last appeared in a final and a further 12 years before that since they annexed the last of their 18 titles. The last couple of years have seen a loss of that killer instinct to really push for a county title and it must be a source of frustration that they can not push on.

Last years’ season saw them lose a low scoring opener to a weakened Ballinkillen side and it was possibly 2 points missed for them. The year saw patches of hurling to match anything on display across the 6 teams, but it was too sporadic, and games often passed them by.

A little bit of indiscipline killed momentum in games also and this has to improve. One of their top performers all year was Dwaine Kavanagh who rolled back the years in the half forward line with scores from play and frees. 

There are rumours he may drop back to his familiar hunting ground of the half back line this year. It was probably finding the right mix from 9 to 15 that they found the most difficult and various personnel and team selections possibly caused unsettled performances.

In Brian Treacy, the half a safe pair of hands who continues to excel between the sticks as the role evolves. Their goal keeping bounty in the club is well known but with Damian Jordan and Kyle Foley departing our shores, there are roles to be filled. 

Ciaran Abbey may feature as an outfield option given his role last year on the intermediate team. The back line performed well with Michael Kavanagh often being deployed in a man marking role at times while Martin Doyle in the middle continues to be steady and anchor things.

Michael Mullins roamed the backline and he rediscovered some of his best hurling in deep roles. Ger Kavanagh brought a huge energy from both 6 and 8 during the year and it’s this type of youth and drive that needs to be built on. 

Diego Dunne is a versatile player, and the Joe Mc winner can slot into an array of positions from 2 to 9. It’s from that 9 on that the Miseal men need to find that bit of magic to consistently threaten teams. 

Colm Beck can become that man in the middle to link the play after an impressive county u20 campaign or indeed slot into a halfback line and roam forward. Emerging players like Cian Quirke, Declan Nolan, and Dean Slye – he can kick on again this year. 

John Michael (do we even need to use his last name?!) has re emerged after an injury scare to have yet another big year for the county. 

Managing his time on the pitch to get the best from him over 60 mins will be key – what a ball winner to have in the team but he needs that support when he comes down from the clouds. 

Cathal and Scott Treacy have a bit of zip about them if they can get that good ball. Tactically they have changed from a reliance on power to working that ball smarter over the last few years and it takes time to get the right fit for players.

I think they are still not the finished article yet, but people need to be patient and let youth come through and put their stamp on things too. Would a semi final berth be on the cards? They will target that, and it certainly would be progress.

Naomh Brid

Naomh Brids return to the senior ranks has been a building process and they will be playing the long game – making themselves real contenders over the next few years. Last year they failed to record a win but had many good performances especially against Bagenalstown Gaels. 

They played some v good hurling throughout matches but failed to keep that tempo for a full 60 minutes. This year will see more younger players coming through and they will look to take on key roles in the team.

Shane Kirwan, James Maher and Tadhg O’Neill – all county u20 players this year, will have no issue stepping up to senior club championship – Maher featured last year but he will look to start more regularly this campaign. 

Kirwan is a tough man marking defender who would be most likely at home in a full back line with another u20 county hurler Ross Dermody – who detailed many of the top club forwards last year, with the experienced Colin Brennan a likely 3. 

Maher is a dynamic energetic hurler and a half back berth might be on the cards. There is plenty of talent and experience as they go up the field with Adam Dunne the most likely anchor at 6 and this ball playing stopper shores things up well. 

They may decide to play with a sweeper and Dunne would be a natural fit or Sean Watchorn who still has the touches and the craft to slot in. Andy Mulleney could be that 7th defender and man marking is a role he relishes in both codes.

Further up front they have some lively options. A hard-working midfield with Fiach O’Byrne, Niall Roche or Tommy Dunne would serve as a good foil for a forward line with Aaron Amond, Mikey Bambrick, John Murphy and Fiach O’Toole all being strong scoring options. 

You would imagine Murphy will be a handful in the air and anchor a central position of either 11 or 14 and act as a target for direct ball. 

Amond and O’Toole know where the posts are and will be assisted on this front by Tadhg O’Neill – another just up from their minor winning squad of 2022 and with county experience. 

Bambrick, while making his name nowadays as a county footballer, could easily have been a Joe McDonagh winner this year such is his natural talent. Injury curtailed his pitch time before, but a fit and direct running Bambrick will cause trouble. 

This year will be about further progress. Realistically you would imagine they will target 1 or 2 games as very winnable and then look for good performances elsewhere. Last year they were resolute and in games for sustained periods but lacked a killer punch when on top.

Getting a style of play not only to suit their talents but to keep them compact and tight will be the challenge this year. The split season you would hope has helped them to focus on the hurling and bring through some exiting talent. 

With a years’ experience back at senior and an injury free run for key players I think they can cause a surprise along the way this year but maybe not enough to secure a top 4 finish. 

Bagenalstown Gaels 

The amalgamation of Erin’s Own and St Andrews certainly seems to be working in Bagenalstown and there’s a real sense of togetherness and purpose across both codes again this year with both likely to be real contenders in both senior codes. 

2022 saw the Gaels reach a first senior final in 10 years for the town team. One of the more striking things about their progress over the year was the development of their panel and to the best of my knowledge they used the most players over the course of their 7 games.  

But its quality combined with quantity that saw them reach the final and they will look to build on that again this year.

The final itself will be something they will look back on with a sense of regret as they seemed devoid of energy and ideas on the day when the squeeze came on after 20 minutes or so – but give great credit to the saints for the way they played in the final too.

So where to for this year? I think one aspect of their progress has to be the passing of the scoring torch more evenly across their front 6. Craig Doyle was again their top marksman from frees and play and the veteran (a sharp and lean looking one still!) will again lead the attack in 23.

They no doubt have exciting players there with real pace and purpose and with a little more directness and end product they will hurt teams. Last year Paddy McDonnell and Andrew Kane sparkled at various stages, and they will look to build on that this year in that inside line. 

Both are incredibly pacey and picked off some nice scores at times. Jamie Clarke is an obvious foil for both in there and the county footballer when on song is so hard to handle. He knows only 1 way and that’s forward! His ability to win frees and create panic will surely be something new manager Eddie Scally will look to harness. 

Half forwards and ball winners will be key to getting platforms in games and this might see Danny Doyle being positioned at 11 with Craig and Jake on the wings. Mark McDonald hurled really well at 11 and in midfield at times too las year and his fire is very evident still along with chipping in with the odd score. 

Depending on injuries/options Joe Mc winning corner back, Jack McCullagh will most likely roam that middle third – possibly from a half back berth. His power and engine will be needed out there, but he has proven this year he can man mark well also if needed. 

JP Treacy has been a huge addition since his transfer, and he will be hoping he gets an injury free run in 23. He offers options across 3 lines and his aerial ability is a massive addition.

The 6 jersey looks likely to have only 1 candidate – Alfie. Another incredible servant to club and county and he still produces the goods game on game. Beanie Doyle again was similar last year in how he operated. 

Back options are plentiful and with Cian Doyle making a real niche for being a main man marker, he has filled every position from 2 to 7 in recent years. Niall Bolger is in top form as we seen from his county days this year and with Darragh Nolan and the emerging Sean Wall – both with senior/u20 county experience under their belts, it gives huge options.

The Whelan’s, Eoghan Doyle etc give a depth to their panel and they really used that 20 in each game last year. Their goal this year – get back to the final and rinse last years’ experience away. They won’t be far away you would imagine and should secure a semi final position at their ease.