The Laois senior hurling championship will click into gear this weekend, as the club season takes centre stage for the coming months.
Reigning champions Camross will be attempting to do what no club has done since Castletown in 2003, and retain the Bob O’Keeffe Cup.
They are currently being given an outside shot of doing just that, as the bookies have them as fourth favourites behind Rathdowney-Errill, Clough-Ballacolla and Borris-Kilcotton.
Both Rathdowney and Ballacolla are at 11/4 with the bookmakers Paddy Power, while Borris-Kilcotton are at 3/1. Camross are 5/1, followed by Castletown Slieve Bloom (8/1), Portlaoise (10/1), The Harps (12/1) and Abbeyleix (40/1).
Of the big four listed asfavourites, Rathdowney-Errill enter the championship with no major injury concerns at present, although they no longer have Owen Houlihan, who has transferred to a club in Kildare. Camross are without Zane Keenan for the opening round against Portlaoise, as he is in Boston, but is expected to be back for the rest of the SHC.
Clough-Ballacolla are missing Bill Duggan, who is also in the USA, while Brian Stapleton underwent knee surgery on a cartilage problem for just last week, ruling him out for Borris-Kilcotton.
At the other end of the spectrum, it looks as though the relegation battle will be between Portlaoise and Abbeyleix, both of whom had miserable league campaigns.
In the SHC ‘B’, Ballinakill start as the early favourites, having competed in ACHL Division 1 this year, and with the experienced Frankie McGrath at the helm. With Cha Dwyer currently in the best form of his career, they should have enough to escape what is going to be another closely fought championship.
The action begins on Saturday night, as Portlaoise v Camross and Rathdowney-Errill v Borris-KIlcotton. On Sunday, The Harps play Clough-Ballacolla and Abbeyleix meet Castletown-Slieve Bloom.
For previews, see pages 66 to 69 of this week’s Leinster Express including a ‘Team Mates’ feature where the club captains spill the beans on their team-mates.