TWO all-Premier SHC clashes in the top flight of the revamped RedFM Hurling League draw the attention as the competition begins this weekend.
Last year, there were three tiers in the hurling league with Divisions 1 and 2 split into two sections and Division 3 made up of three groups. Placings in those pools determined the make-up of the divisions for the new seven-division competition, with ten teams in each of Divisions 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 and then eight each in Division 6 and Division 7.
The top tier features seven premier senior clubs with three from senior A. Last year’s beaten finalists Douglas are in action on Saturday as they take on Erin’s Own, who reached the semi-finals of the championship in 2022.
That game has a 4pm start in Douglas, while at the same time there is a meeting of Sarsfields and Kanturk in Riverstown. Both clubs finished top of their league section last year and made it to the semi-finals, losing out to Blackrock and Douglas respectively in games that doubled up as championship ties. At 5pm, Killeagh welcome Na Piarsaigh to Páirc Uí Chinnéide as the city side commence life outside the top championship tier for the first time since 1957.
On Sunday, the league champions Blackrock begin the defence of their title at the same venue where they beat Douglas in last November’s final as they are away to Carrigtowhill at 11.30pm.
Sunday’s other game, which has a 12 noon throw-in, features two teams who are very familiar with each other as last year’s senior A champions Fr O’Neills take on Charleville, who won the second-tier championship in 2020, beating O’Neills in the final. They had also overcome the East Cork side in the 2018 Premier IHC semi-final before O’Neills followed them as champions in the last year where that was the second-highest grade.
With reigning county champions St Finbarr’s having finished in the lower half of their group last year, they are in Division 2 of the new league. That has a split of five senior clubs, four senior A and one premier intermediate.
On Saturday, Midleton take on Bishopstown at Clonmult Memorial Park at 4.30pm and the other four games are scheduled for Sunday. The Barrs are away to Newtownshandrum, the side they beat in the semi-finals of last year’s championship, at 11.30pm, which is the same time as Mallow host Courcey Rovers – the Ballinspittle/Ballinadee club won last year’s Division 2.
There is a local derby at 12 noon between senior A sides Fermoy and Bride Rovers, the beaten semi-finalist in last year’s championship, while at 2.30pm Ballincollig – the sole premier intermediate representatives and beaten Division 2 finalists against Courceys – are up against Glen Rovers with a 2.30pm throw-in.
Last year’s premier intermediate champions Inniscarra, Newcestown and Blarney are the three senior A teams in Division 3. The latter two are in the same group for the championship and their league meeting is among the opening-weekend games.
They clash in Newcestown on Sunday morning while Scarra are away to Blackrock’s second team this afternoon. There’s a Carrigdhoun derby between Ballymartle and Carrigaline on Sunday morning as well as the clash of Castlelyons and Bandon while Éire Óg go up against Kilworth.
Two senior A clubs, Cloyne and Ballyhea, are in the new Division 4 of the league. Ballyhea provide the opposition for Aghabullogue, who were the winners of the old Division 3 last year, while Cloyne take on Valley Rovers. Ballinhassig meet Milford while Lisgoold – beaten by Aghabullogue in that Division 3 final – take on fellow Imokilly side Youghal and St Catherine’s do battle with Kildorrery.
In Division 5, the two clubs that compete together at underage level as Kiltha Óg – Castlemartyr and Dungourney – will face each other while Cloughduv take on Midleton, Russell Rovers clash with Mayfield, Argideen Rangers meet Aghada and All-Ireland junior club champions Ballygiblin meet Watergrasshill.
Division 6 is made up of Kilbrittain, Na Piarsaigh, Sarsfields, Tracton, Barryroe, Ballygarvan and Meelin.
Division 7 features three premier junior clubs - St Finbarr's, Glen Rovers and last year’s JAHC winners Erin’s Own. They are joined by the team Erin's Own beat in the final, Kilshannig, beaten semi-finalists Ballinora and Ballinascarthy and two of the quarter-finalists, Nemo Rangers and Valley Rovers.