Blackrock are opening their defense this weekend.

Cracking weekend of hurling action in store

After last weekend’s football action, focus this week is on the Co-Op Superstores Hurling Championships with a host of games beginning on Friday through until Sunday.

The majority, if not all of the Cork panel will be involved and given the manner of the loss to Limerick in the All-Ireland Final, it’s ideal that they will have their clubs to focus on in the coming weeks.

In the past some players might not have this option, as their club will have exited the championship, at least they can now get that defeat out of their system and their clubs should be the beneficiaries.

Premier Senior Hurling

It is only fitting that the champions Blackrock are involved in the very first game of the championship as they begin the defence of their title with a Friday night fixture. It’s a repeat of last year’s first game in the group; in Páirc Uí Rinn in Group C with a 7.30pm start, they face Erin’s Own.

The champions will start as favourites but they will not want to underestimate Erin’s Own who under the astute guidance of Martin Bowen were semi-finalists last year and really tested Glen Rovers, after beating a fancied Sarsfields side in the quarter-final.

The Caherlag side though are still depending on many of the players that have served them with distinction over the years: Shay Bowen, Cian O’Connor and the Murphy brothers, but Robbie Flynn and his brother James carry a threat up front.

Niall Cashman, Alan Connolly and Tadgh Deasy have featured with Cork this year and that will give them added experience - throw in John Cashman, Daniel Meaney and Michael O’Halloran and it’s easy to see why they will be serious contenders again this year. Erin’s own will test them, but Blackrock to win.

The other game in this, most competitive of groups, is the meeting of Charleville and St Finbarr’s in Mallow on Saturday at 3pm, and this has the makings of a cracker.

Ronan Curran is back at the helm in Togher as they bid to put the awful campaign they had last year behind them, and there are clear signs that are about to become a force to be reckoned with in the coming years. A quick glance at the number of players they had on various Cork teams this year is an indication of emerging talent.

That said they will get nothing soft in this game; Charleville won a great Senior A Championship last year and the bulk of the team that took them all the way to Croke Park are still around and hurling well.

Darragh Fitzgibbon is their man, and he’s due a big game after a disappointing, by his standards inter-county campaign. Danny O’Flynn, David Butler, Cathal O’Carroll, James O’Brien and Diarmuid Hawe are others well versed in the art of winning big games.

‘Barrs will look to the experience of Glen O’Connor, Billy Hennessey, Damien and Conor Cahalane along with the talented younger players in Jack Cahalane, Brian Hayes, Ben Cunningham and Ethan Twomey.

This is a hard one to call, and Mallow is a favoured venue for Charleville, but the ‘Barr’s get the nod to win, and with this group being so tight, the losers will be in a tough battle to extend their season, even at this early stage of the championship.

Group B will see the two games in Páirc Uí Rinn on Saturday. First up at 2pm is the East Cork derby of Midleton and Carrigtwohill, and having won their respective group in the league, Ben O’Connor’s side should get off to a winning start, especially if Conor Lehane, Paul Haughney, Luke O’Farrell and Sean O’Leary Hayes play to form.

Sars and Na Piarsaigh meet at 5.30pm and Sars - who lost the league decider to Midleton - will start as favourites and their high powered management team look to have them going in the right direction, even if they have a few injuries to contend with.

Conor O’Sullivan, Daniel Kearney, Ray Kennedy and Jack O’Connor are key to Sar’s challenge which should get off to winning start.

Glen Rovers were runners-up to Blackrock last year and start this campaign for the first time in a number of years without Richie Kelleher who has stepped down as manager but the transition has been seamless with Ian Lynam now in charge having been part of the coaching team with Richie.

Their opening group B clash is against city rivals Douglas in Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Saturday at 7.30pm, an intriguing encounter.

Five players that featured in the All-Ireland final will be on view here and that quintet aside, there is a lot of talented players on both sides.

Douglas with a lot of potential have yet to deliver on that potential so far, but were somewhat unlucky to lose out in their group last season coming close to beating Sars in the vital game.

Shane Kingston, Eoin and Alan Cadogan, Brian Turnbull, Brian Hartnett and Mark Harrington are big players for Douglas, as usual Patrick Horgan will deliver for the Blackpool lads, while Robert Downey, Brian Moylan, Dave Noonan and Stephen McDonnell are as dependable as ever and should have enough to get over the line, but not without a serious test from a side that has a lot of firepower up front.

Newtownshandrum meet Bishopstown in the other game in this group on Sunday in Fermoy at 2pm, and based on current form the North Cork side should prevail.

Senior A Hurling

This was a cracking championship last year and this season should be no different and several big teams in contention among them the runners up to Charleville, Fr O’Neills who open their campaign with a game against Newcestown in Group C. Newcestown are always hard to beat but even without the injured Ger Mellerick, Fr O’Neills should win.

Cloyne and Killeagh are the other teams in this group and while both are not exactly shooting the lights out, Cloyne look better equipped to win.

In Group A, Kanturk - even with Aidan Walsh an injury doubt - will be fancied to get the better of Bandon, while Blarney with a trio of Mark Coleman, Shane Barrett and Padraig Power will be too strong for Fermoy.

Ballyhea and Bride Rover meet in Group B and here the Roche brothers could be key in guiding the latter to a win, while the meeting of Ballymartle and Mallow is hard to call but a slight nod to the South-East side although Mallow will be boosted by their footballers win last weekend.

Premier Intermediate

Again some intriguing encounters in this competition with a lot of big hitters bidding for Senior status.

Group A has a big South-East derby to get it underway; it’s Courcey Rovers v Carrigaline with the Ballinspittle lads looking to Sean Twomey to point them to victory, while in the other game Eire Og with huge momentum in both codes right now should have too much in hand for Youghal who have struggled of late.

In Group B, runners-up last year Castlelyons will be keen to go one better this season and should start with a win over East Cork rivals Watergrasshill, while the clash of Inniscarra and Valley Rovers should be lively; the latter buoyed by that brilliant win by their footballers over Nemo Rangers and will be favoured to win.

Ballinhassig will be fancied to get the better of Aghada in Group C while Ballincollig might just edge their clash with Kilworth.

Intermediate A

Let’s try and predict the winners in this grade:

Blackrock v Mayfield - Blackrock

Aghabullogue v Sarsfields -Aghabullogue

Dungourney v Glen Rovers - Glen Rovers

Castlemartyr v Douglas - Castlemartyr

Midleton v Meelin - Midleton

Cloughduv v Kildorrery - Cloughduv

Lower Intermediate

Initially it was planned to dissolve this grade at the conclusion of this year’s championship but given that the last two campaigns have been disrupted, this has been deferred until next season so it takes on added importance as the winners will retain their status. The rest will revert to Junior, which I am certain they will be keen to avoid.

Russell Rovers even though have lost a few key players with injury among them Josh Beausang should be too good for Tracton.

Lisgoold v St Finbarrs - Lisgoold

St Catherine’s v Milford - St Catherine’s

Ballygarvan v Barryroe - Ballygarvan

Argideen Rgs v Kibrittain - Kilbrittain

Dripsey v Grenagh - Grenagh

Best of luck to all teams for the weekend and there will be extensive coverage of all the games on 96FM/C103 over the entire weekend.