Daithí Lohan is tipped to have a big year for The Tones. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill
The phrase ‘a good start is half the battle’ could have been written with Wolfe Tones in mind as the last two seasons, their sole championship saving victories have come in the opening round of the championship.
With the 2020 campaign ultimately didn’t have any threat of relegation, a rousing round victory over Clarecastle certainly allowed the Shannon side to look upwards for the remainder of the campaign while a gritty opening display against Scariff last summer proved pivotal in an inch-tight group.
With the Tones, Scariff and Clarecastle finishing level on points, scoring difference would catapult Ray Diviney’s side into the last eight against neighbours Newmarket whereas the Magpies were thrown to the lions of the relegation process.
With two teams to fall for definite in 2023, Wolfe Tones best hope of avoiding any brush with danger is to complete a first round hat-trick against the latest intermediate champions Smith O’Brien’s.
“Beating Clarecastle and Scariff was a good fillip for us at the start of the last two championships because we had a lot of young players coming through and those wins helped us gain momentum and a bit of confidence in the group,” admitted Diviney.
“So again we’ll hope for a good start, the lads are training hard so hopefully we can get a bit of luck on the day to get over the line. It’s a massive game for both teams. We wouldn’t necessarily fear Smith O’Brien’s and they wouldn’t fear us either I’d imagine so it’s all about digging out that result and getting off to the best possible start.”
Backed by the return of their three county seniors Rory Hayes, Darragh Lohan and Aron Shanagher to add to captain Aaron Cunningham, Diviney and Co. are prepared to have to battle in all three group contests against the intermediate champions, Crusheen and seeded side Inagh-Kilnamona.
“I think the group is fairly evenly-balanced. Probably Inagh/Kilnamona and Crusheen have more experience in their team player-wise but going into the championship all four will feel that they can get out of the group.
“It should be tight in all the group matches because Smith O’Brien’s are coming up from intermediate on a high, Inagh/Kilnamona reached last year’s final and Crusheen are rebuilding so everyone’s in with a fighting chance I think.”
Management: Ray Diviney (Manager); Alan Cunningham, Paul O’Shea, Paul Hogan; Fearghal Lawlor (S&C); Greg Keane (Kitman); Aoife Hogan (Physio)
Captain: Aaron Cunningham
Key Player: Rory Hayes
One to Watch: Billy Connors
Fresh Blood: Gavin Carrig, Billy Connors, Sam Meaney, Peter McEvoy
Departures Gate: Barry Loughnane
Titles Won: 2
Most Recent Title: 2006
Last season’s run: For the second successive season began the championship in winning fashion, something which saved them as despite back-to-back defeats, the Tones still managed to squeeze through to the last eight on score difference.