When Down and Derry embark on their National Hurling League campaigns this weekend, a distinct family flavour will underscore each county’s set-up.
New Down manager Gerard Monan will lead his side on the long haul to Ennis in the hope that the opening Division Two fixture against Clare, who have made an indifferent start to the new season, will yield early encouragement while Derry boss James O’Kane is preparing for the visit of Kerry to Celtic Park in Division 2A.
And while Monan will look to the combined talents of the Ennis brothers Michael and Sean to fire up his side, Banagher clubman O’Kane can turn to an even more deeply-embedded family connection to provide inspiration against the Kingdom.
Liam Hinphey is the team captain while his father Liam snr, a native of Kilkenny and a former Derry manager, is a valuable member of O’Kane’s backroom team.
Up front, the talented McCloskey brothers Ruari and Oisin are sons of Sean McCloskey who is a team selector
Skipper Hinphey and Mark Craig, who made a big impact at Under 21 level, bring experience and guile to the Oak Leaf side but the former acknowledges that Kerry will be difficult opponents.
“They are probably one of the best teams in hurling’s second tier and are certainly never easy to beat.
“It’s quite some time since we have had home advantage against them,” explains Hinphey, who is currently turning out for Derry in the National Football League as well.
Down also carry a raft of experience into their clash with Ger O’Loughlin’s much-changed Clare side which still includes such familiar names as Gerry Quinn, Fergal Lynch and Alan Markham.
Meanwhile, Armagh manager Paul Kelly is hoping that old hands such as Declan Coulter, Barry McCormack, Ryan Gaffney and Paul McCormack can give a lead when Mayo are the visitors to Crossmaglen in Division 3A.
Armagh found the going tough in the league last year and Kelly is conscious that his side need points in the bag from this opening home fixture before they take to the road.