Hurlers open AHL campaign with home game against Laois

Kildare captain Paul Divilly.

Kildare captain Paul Divilly.

THE new boys are nearly always the ones fancied to go straight back down again. In a division that includes Laois and Westmeath, Kildare will have it all to do in the 2013 Allianz Division 2A Hurling League but they’ve started the year well and are keep to keep that momentum going, writes Ruth Chambers.

The Lilies open their league campaign this Sunday against neighbours Laois in Newbridge. Playing at home is a help to Willie Sunderland’s side but a step up in performance will be needed if they are to get up and running from the off.

Laois, like the Lilies, didn’t have the best starts to the year but have since appointed former minor manager Seamus Plunkett as boss and have been engaged in a gruelling six days a week training schedule.

Plunkett has blooded some new faces and the likes of PJ Scully and Ben Conroy have really impressed for the O’Moore men. In competition Laois lost out to Antrim in the Walsh Shield by a single point after extra time. In contrast Kildare have enjoyed early season success when they recently beat Meath to claim the Kehoe Cup.

Of course the Kehoe Cup is a lower graded competition but nonetheless winning breeds confidence and the Lilies will be confident ahead of this Sunday’s opener.

Just before Christmas Kildare’s season was rightly up in the air after boss Willie Sunderland and his management team elected to step down due to unworkable budget restraints inflicted by the County Board. The players soon followed suit and preparations ground to a halt.

After negociations the players and Sunderland returned, however, their lay off meant that not as much work as planned had been done and with a tough opener against the O’Moore men that was a worry for Sunderland.

“We’d liked to have been back a lot earlier. The time for talking is over though, we have to move on and prepare the best we can for league and championship,” Sunderland recently told the Leinster Leader.

“We needed to prepare earlier to give ourselves a better chance. Given the turmoil that Laois were in, we should have been able to take advantage of that and hit the ground running. Laois are back now and any advantage we may have had is gone and on the day it’s a 50/50 thing. As much as Laois have their problems, I know there are good hurlers down there. They have been playing in a higher division for a long time now and I just hope that the advantage we hoped to have is not totally gone,” added the Wexford native.

As aforementioned Kildare enjoyed a successful Kehoe Cup. Aside from beaten Meath in the final they also accounted for Louth by a cricket score in Darvar at the quarter final stage, while Derry came to Newbridge for the penultimate round of the competition, a game which the Lilies won 2-16 to 0-13.

Of course since returning from their protest sabatical there has been some disappointment with the news that Ardclough’s Martin Fitzgerald, who recently left the panel due to personal reasons, while Celbridge’s Fergal Conway and Coill Dubh man Jonathan Byrne have decided to give their commitment to Kieran McGeeney’s Under 21 football panel.

However, young guns like goalkeeper Paddy McKenna and Bernard Daey from Clane, Celbridge’s Gerry Keegan and Peader Downey from Naas have all shown well in early season matches, while captain Paul Divilly is in the form of his life at present. Of course planning without the services of the experienced pair of John Doran and Paul Dermody, who are both out through injury, is a blow, but Sunderland is fast putting together a panel with some strength in depth and that’s something they will need if they are to survive in this division.

In their second game, on Sunday, March 10, the Lilies will travel to Aughrim to take on Wicklow, last year’s beaten Christy Ring Cup finalists. It’s an fixture Kildare are full capable of winning if the Lilies have the belief, something that Sunderland is desperately trying to instill in to his team.

Kildare’s round three game is against Derry in Celtic Park and going on recent results Sunderland’s charges can be confident of taking the points up north.

The teams met in the semi final of the Kehoe Cup recently in Newbridge and the home side came away with a 2-16 to 0-13 victory with Paul Divilly contributing 2-6.

In the fourth round Kildare welcome Kerry to Newbridge, while the Lilies travel to Cusack Park in Mullingar for a very tough fifth round meeting with Westmeath.

So Kildare meet the division’s strongest teams at the very beginning and the very end, while the teams in between, while the Lilies will respect them, are very much so there for the taking. Nonetheless Sunderland’s side are fancied to come straight back down. It’s up to them now to prove the layers wrong.

Kildare Allianz Hurling League

Division 2A fixtures

Round 1:

Kildare v Laois, February 24

Newbridge, 2pm.

Round 2:

Wicklow v Kildare, March 10

Aughrim, 12.45pm).

Round 3:

Derry v Kildare,

March 16, Celtic Park, 5.15pm.

Round 4:

Kildare v Kerry,

March 24, Newbridge, 12.45pm.

Round 5:

Westmeath v Kildare

March 31 Cusack Park, 3pm.




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