Floodlit hurling comes to Down when the inaugural County Under 21 Championship starts next Friday. This innovative competition continues during November and six teams will be taking part – as Down Hurling Development Officer Thomas Daly explained:
“Under 21s are an important link which helps brings minor players through to senior level. This Championship is a first for hurling in Down and playing the games under floodlights adds an extra dimension. The competition starts with two group stages with the three Ards clubs playing in one group at weekends and the teams from the rest of the county availing of floodlit facilities to play their matches on Friday nights”.
The first floodlit game sees O Rahillys take on Patrick Rankins at the Bann Road pitch in Castlewellan (7.30p.m. on Friday 28 October). The O Rahillys side comprises players from Liatroim and Castlewellan clubs. County forward, Oisin Mc Manus will be a scoring threat for the O Rahillys men, who will also have stars in Pearse Og Mc Crickard and Paddy Joe Mc Comiskey along with the hard working and skilful Sean Hardy. An array of talent from across South Down is available for their opponents, Patrick Rankins who draw their players from the Newry, Clonduff and Warrenpoint areas. Clonduff’s Paddy Brannigan is one to watch and his club mate Rhys Ward will be dangerous in attack. Ronan Sheehan’s charges will also benefit from the flair of Newry players Ruairi Campbell and Ryan Courtney and Cumann Pheadair Naofa 2015 Minor Hurler of the Year, James Mc Parland.
The other side in this group sees an amalgamation of Carryduff and Bredagh playing as ‘Cuchullains’. The North Down outfit sits out this Friday’s fixtures but will be a strong force to be reckoned with. Fresh from their IHC victory, Bredagh’s Declan Mc Cartney and Mark Patterson will be keen to add to their 2016 successes with an Under 21 title. The Cuchullain’s Manager – Carryduff’s Kieran Moore – will also have players like Michael Woods and County minor Donal Og Rooney from his home club while St Paul’s footballer, Michael Collins will add further strength and skill to the Cuchullains Championship challenge.
The top two teams in the group will qualify to play semi finals against the top sides from the Ards group. That section starts in Ballygalget on Sunday (1pm) when the home side take on Portaferry. It has been a hugely successful year for the Ballygalget club and the younger players from their SHC-winning starting 15 – Brook Byers, Mark Fisher, Cormac Coulter and Jordan Doran- are joined by the likes of Jamie Crowe in a strong side coached by Ballygalget stalwarts, Paddy Coulter and Pete McKenna. For their part, as always, Portaferry will travel to their neighbours intent on victory and their manager Sean Fitzsimmons will be looking for solid performances from Conal Fay, Barry Trainor and Mark Hanna. Daithi Sands and Conal Fitzsimmons also have the ability to produce match winning scores for the Ports and whatever the outcome, a battling and enthralling hour’s hurling is expected.
Ballycran’s joint management of Eoghan Hughes and Jamie Fowler will no doubt await the outcome with interest as they prepare their side for their entry into the Championship group stages the following weekend. Led by County star Chrissy Egan and supported by the emerging talents of Niall Breen, Hugh Flynn and Liam Savage, the Rubane side will also fancy their chances in the competition.
At this point, none of the six participating teams can be written off in what promises to be a close fought and entertaining inaugural Under 21 Championship.
The full programme of group stage fixtures is as follows:
Friday 28 Oct 7.30pm O’Rahilly’s v Patrick Rankin’s (Bann Rd, Castlewellan)
Sunday 30 Oct 1.00pm Ballygalget v Portaferry (Ballygalget)
Friday 11th Nov 7.30pm Patrick Rankin’s v Cuchullains (Abbey CBS)
Sunday 6 Nov 1.00pm Portaferry v Ballycran (Portaferry)
Friday 4th Nov 7.30pm Cuchullains v O’Rahilly’s (The Dub)
Sunday 13 Nov 1.00pm Ballycran v Ballygalget (Ballycran)
Picture: Ballygalget’s Mark Fisher who will line out in the Down U 21 Club Championship