Kerry hurler Pádraig Boyle is hoping the favourite’s tag will weigh heavily on Carlow’s shoulders when they meet in the opening round of the Joe McDonagh Cup at Dr Cullen Park on Sunday.
Following last year’s Christy Ring success over Antrim, the Barrowsiders are expected to be one of the main challengers in this inaugural second-tier competition.
The Leinster side also recently secured promotion to Division 1B of the Allianz League, but Boyle feels the six-team format will spring a number of surprises as the summer progresses.
“Carlow won the Christy Ring last year and they’re after getting promoted to 1B. They’ll be fairly confident going into this Joe McDonagh. They’re probably one of the favourites,” the Ballyduff man remarked at Monday’s launch in Croke Park.
“That said, you’d be doing really well to win the five games. I think all the teams are going to take points off each other.”
Although promotion and silverware are the ultimate goals for the teams in this competition, there is also the added incentive of a place in the preliminary quarter-finals of this year’s Liam McCarthy Cup for the two finalists.
Having produced a commendable display against future All-Ireland champions Galway in the 2017 league series, Boyle is eager for another test against one of the top-tier counties.
“To have a crack at one of the bigger teams. That’s what you train for. It’s great to play Galway. To put yourself up against the best.
“That’s a massive test, to play them and then they go on to win an All-Ireland. We weren’t too far away from them in the league. They ran out comfortable 13-point winners in the end, but we held our own for a good bit of it,” Boyle added.
The pick of this weekend’s fixtures is arguably the meeting between Meath and Antrim at Páirc Tailteann, Navan.
This will evoke memories of the two-game saga involving the two counties in the 2016 Christy Ring Cup decider — when Meath were incorrectly awarded a one-point victory due to an error with the official scoreboard.
Meath subsequently edged out their Ulster counterparts three weeks later in a replayed encounter, and Antrim hurler Conor McKinley expects another tough battle with the Royals on Saturday.
“We had a small break from the league and then everything was geared towards this coming weekend against Meath. That’s what you train for,” McKinley said.
Though Antrim’s Division 1B league campaign ended in a relegation play-off defeat to Laois, there were encouraging signs in their narrow reversals to Galway and Dublin. With four of the six teams in the McDonagh Cup operating in lower divisions, McKinley believes the team’s big-game experience will stand to them.
“There’s no qualms about it. Playing at that higher league should bring your hurling on that bit faster. We’re just hoping that 1B probably has sped up the hurling a wee bit better. As I say, we know how good these other teams are and you try to get every advantage you can.”
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