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Preview: 2023 Carlow Football Championships

By
Kevin Regan
-
August 22, 2023

It's that time of the year again.

The Carlow Football Championships begin in earnest this Thursday night with a double header of Intermediate action in Netwatch Cullen Park.

THURSDAY

First up at 7:15pm is the meeting of St Patrick's and Naomh Eoin.

Alan Costello is in charge of St Patricks this year. He comes in looking to build on the solid foundations laid by his predecessor Mick Kehoe.

Costello will certainly be an asset to them, he comes with inter county and club experience in different parts of the country and they will be looking to make the next step which they have the capability of doing.

Naomh Eoin have Mick Byrne in charge once more. He has a serious CV and will be looking to go one better this year after losing out to Fenagh in last years decider.

They certainly won't be lacking in terms of physicality and fitness.

The game itself like most of them in this grade is extremely difficult to call, as is the entire championship! But St Patricks get a narrow nod here.

The second game on Thursday sees Junior A Champions Clonmore up against Grange at 8.40pm.

Clonmore are undoubtedly a team that will likely hit the Senior ranks in the not too distant future.

They have a super manager in Ciaran Walsh, a great blend of youth and experience and also a vital ingredient. Pace.

Grange have some super footballers and one of those is involved from a management point of view in John Murphy. He's joined by Tom Dillon and Peter Cleere.

This is a real case of speed against strength and it offers big interest from that point of view, as both sides can play some excellent football.

I will go with pace on this occasion and Clonmore to shade it.

All these teams playing on Thursday night are in the same group.

FRIDAY

Senior Football Championship kicks off with the local derby of Bagenalstown Gaels and Fenagh in Netwatch Cullen Park at 7.30pm

In theory, Fenagh should be coming up here on a real high with the players that they have at their disposal and the age profile of most of them.

The vibes don't seem to be matched by that theory and instead of the expectation and hype around building on promotion, there is a real feel that they are in a battle for survival.

Looking at the group, you would think that there is hope to get something from one of the games to get them into the knockout stages depending on other results and to keep them safe with that.

But then again, sure aren't all the teams thinking that?

Bagenalstown Gaels are 8/1 to win the Championship. The bookies have them ahead of Tinryland, but yet all the talk is that last years finalists will top the group at their ease. (We will look at Tinryland v MLR further down the article.)

The Town won't mind that in the slightest, but they wouldn't want to take their eye off the ball against Fenagh who would be only too happy to get one over on them.

Eddie Scally is over both codes after Rory Hurley stepped away, but there's speculation that a ban might keep him off the sidelines for a fair portion of the Championship if that's to be believed. That's after his dismissal during Bagnealstown's Semi Final loss to MLR in the Hurling Championship.

So if that is indeed true then it's hard to know whether it rallies the troops or provides difficulty.

John and David Hickey are over Fenagh this year. Two extremely passionate clubmen that will do anything for the cause.

As for this fixture? The local derby element will account for a lot, but in the end I think that Bagenalstown having operated competitively at this level with the big guns over the past few years will edge it.

SATURDAY

Junior A Football Championship operates on a home/away basis which has offered a good bit to this grade in terms of generating atmosphere.

In Group 1 at 6pm Leighlinbridge are home to Tinryland while at the same time the Fighting Cocks host O'Hanrahans.

Leighlin were seconds away from pulling off arguably the biggest upset in years at this grade when they led the heavily fancied Clonmore in last years final, only for Billy Lawlor to save the day in the dying moments.

Damien Farrell is back again this year and many people now have them as favourites. How they handle this will be key.

Tinryland's second team is always strong and some big hitters are reported to be on board this year which won't see them too far off.

With home advantage Leighlin might have enough.

Interestingly Tony Bolger and Maurice Browne have teamed up to take the reigns at the Fighting Cocks. Browne has an excellent CV, winning All Ireland Schools titles, County Finals and holding his own on the inter county front. Bolger won't take any nonsense and that dynamic will be interesting.

It's hard to believe that the Blues are operating at this grade, but they are where they are and will be keen to get back moving the right way.

Barry English and Martin Wall will look to lead their return to Intermediate but it will be far from simple.

This fixture will be a difficult one to start with and Fighting Cocks might just nab the points.

Clonmore will have home advantage against Ballinabranna at 6pm also in Group 1 of the Junior B.

Saturday's Senior action sees another double header at NCP.

At 6pm Old Leighlin take on Eire Og.

Eire Og are hot favourites for the Championship according to the bookmakers while their opponents aren't being given a prayer.

And a lot of people around Carlow think Old Leighlin will be the whipping boys in this group which also contains Palatine and Rathvilly.

In reality, Old Leighlin are in the same group as the previous three winners of the Championship so it's easy to understand where that assumption might come from.

But I do feel they will get a win somewhere and depending on the circumstances it may put one of the others out.

Turlough O'Brien will be seeking to make up for last year which was terrible from their point of view.

There is a reason they are fancied but whether they live up to that is another thing.

The younger players introduced last year will know what to expect and although Eoghan Ruth and Chris Blake are gone, they will still be hard to topple.

Old Leighlin will be competitive but Eire Og to edge it.

At 7.30pm Champions Palatine face Rathvilly.

If Pado Flynn is to be without Ciaran Moran, the Kenny's and a few others then it does of course have an impact.

JJ Smith will have his charges primed and ready here and they won't want to lose three championship games in a row to Palatine.

They feel that they left last years Semi Final behind them against Pal and will be using that as fuel.

Pal did a good job of playing the 'written off' card last year and used it a few times even after winning!

I did say on the Podcast that I was thinking of tipping them in every game to avoid the earaches from stuff said while trying to have a few pints in peace at Christmas again this year!

But I do think Rathvilly might take this one.

SUNDAY

Junior A Group 2 kicks off with Old Leighlin home to Ballon at 12.

You'd feel that Ballon will probably have enough here.

Fenagh play Asca in Fenagh at the same time in Group 1 of the Junior B.

At 2pm in Tinryland it's Eire Og against Kilbride in Group 1 of the Intermediate Championship.

Derek Hayden is over Eire Og, with Jason Carroll over Kilbride.

Kilbride pulled out all the stops to make a Semi Final last year after been completely unfancied.

Eire Og are generally a force at this level but didn't set the world alight last year at all.

Still think Eire Og might nab this.

The other game in this group has a 4.30pm start in NCP with Damien McMahon's Ballinabranna taking on Darren Leonard's Kildavin-Clonegal.

Ballinbranna have lost a lot of key players, namely Darren Lunney who is starting for Raheny in the Dublin SFC and Ben Dorgan who now operates for Graiguecullen in the Laois SFC. There are several others gone also and will be hard to replace.

A rising tide lifts all boats and the recent JHC title win might lend a feel good factor to the big ball code so Kildavin-Clonegal it is.

It's back to Group 1 of the Senior Football Championship at 6pm then in NCP with Tinryland taking on MLR.

Everyone feels Tinryland will top this group, but some may forget that MLR caused them a fair bit of grief for spells in last years Senior Semi.

MLR have been partying hard by all accounts so this game may not come at an ideal time and Tinryland will win it most likely.

6pm sees another Junior B Group 2 encounter take place with Rathvilly hosting Bagenalstown.

While at 7pm in the other Junior A Group 2 game Palatine are home to St Mullins.

St Mullins will be gutted to lose the SHC Final and it may be hard to lift spirits with some, but others have won IHC medals recently too.

It may come down to who Pal have on the second team. But St Mullins might pull it off.

OVERALL PREDICTIONS:

Senior: Eire Og

Intermediate: Clonmore

Junior A: Leighlinbridge

Junior B: Asca

Junior C: God only knows!