Hurlers gear up for Christy Ring Cup Opener

PROMOTION and the Allianz Hurling League Division 2B title has been secured and up next is the big one. Championship. The Christy Ring Cup. The prize that Kildare so dearly want to get their hands on.

PROMOTION and the Allianz Hurling League Division 2B title has been secured and up next is the big one. Championship. The Christy Ring Cup. The prize that Kildare so dearly want to get their hands on.

This Saturday Willie Sunderland and his team will head north to take on Derry in the first round of the Christy Ring Cup and they are determined to come home with victory in the bag and a place in the next round of the competition.

Thus far in 2012 the Kildare hurlers have blossomed. They have had some hiccups along the way naturally but their initial goal has been achieved and signs of great improvement are plain for all to see. Meath, London, Roscommon and Armagh were all taken care of, while the only blot on the copy book, in terms of results, was defeat to Mayo in the fifth round of the league on April Fools Day. The Lilies, while not playing particularly well, went to Navan in the first round and pulled victory out of the bag and just as it looked like the Royals were going to get revenge in the final in Parnell Park, Sunderland’s side did the same.

Two second half goals, courtesy of Tony Murphy and Richie Hoban, ensured a 3-13 to 1-12 win for Kildare, a win that, will no doubt have given them great confidence ahead of this Saturday’s meeting with the Oak Leafers in Celtic Park.

Derry, who plied their trade in Division 2A this year, had a reasonably good league campaign. They finished in third position behind Carlow and Westmeath respectively, and weren’t in any danger of relegation. Their biggest worry was low scoring and only Wicklow, who just avoided the drop, scored less than them in the division.

Derry, over the course of the five rounds won two, lost two and drew one. They got the better of Down and Kerry, drew with Wicklow but lost out Carlow and Westmeath and leaked 2-21 against Carlow.

When Kildare secured promotion Willie Sunderland insisted that it was imperative that his side play at a higher level if standards were to improve and that’s perhaps where Derry might have an advantage this weekend. They were a division higher, however, if one rewinds to last year the record books will show that Kildare had a very comfortable win over the northerns in the quarter final in Banagher.

The score that day was 4-18 to 1-13, on a day when Ardclough’s Martin Fitzgerald contributed no less than 2-4 of the Lilies’ final tally. Granted Derry were understrength on the day but nonetheless it was quite the empathic victory for Sunderland’s charges.

Kildare’s campaign actually started on a losing note last year when they went down to eventual winners Kerry in Newbridge but they got a second bite of the cherry and back on track with a win over Mayo in round 2B, which booked them a place in the quarter finals against Derry. Kildare though made their exit at the penultimate stage when they lost out to neighbours Wicklow by a single goal in Aughrim.

“Last year is history. Yes, it was a surprise to win like we did (in Derry) but we just got the goals at the right time but it’s a different year and we need to forget about that,” remarked Sunderland.

“Derry played at a higher level than us in the league and they were very competitive. Okay they didn’t beat Carlow or Westmeath but they had a decent campaign. On the basis of what they did in the league and our own performances we would be on a par,” added the manager.

Neither Kildare nor Derry have ever won a Christy Ring Cup and the closest the Lilies ever came to it was a final appearance against Westmeath in 2007. This year London will join the competition pushing it up to eight teams and should the Lilies lose out this weekend they will get another chance. The eight trams will play four round one games and the winners will advance to round 2A, while the losers will go in to round 2B. The winners in round 2A will advance to the semi finals, the losers to the quarter finals, while the round 2B winners will also go through to the quarter finals.

Manager Willie Sunderland, however, is no keen on the back door route and while it served his team well last year, he feels there is no need for it in 2012.

“The second chance served us well last year, we were happy to have it because we were short on preparation. I don’t think we’ll be looking to it this year though,” insisted the Wexford native.

On the injury front the Lilies have some slight concerns over Ross Kelly, John O’Malley, Fiachra O’Muineachain and David Harney, however Sunderland is hopeful all four will be available for selection on Saturday.

In preparation for the Christy Ring the hurlers recently travelled to Tipperary for two challenge matches, against Thurles Sarsfields and Holycross, while former All Ireland winning manager Liam Sheedy gave them a motivational talk. That, couple with confidence from the recent success, preparation and maybe a bit of luck, might be enough to see the Lilies through. It won’t be easy, no trip to Celtic Park ever is, but they won’t be found lacking.