BY NIALL SHERRY
• The Village will pose serious test for Shamrocks
• Gaels vs Sash could be epic
St Canice’s Credit Union Kilkenny SHC semi-final draw:
Ballyhale Shamrocks v James Stephens
Tullaroan v O’Loughlin Gaels
So far, the club championship has delivered some quality contests. This weekend’s offering’s promises to serve up more hurling of the highest order.
Ballyhale Shamrocks v James Stephens
3:30pm Throw in @ UPMC Nowlan Park
Indifferent in the league this season, it’s no surprise to anyone that over the course of their two championship games to date, Ballyhale have improved with each performance.
There is obviously a certain expectation that comes with wearing the Shamrocks jersey. The fact that James O’Connor’s charges are going for four county titles in a row brings additional pressure to those who take to the field in each game.
In the first championship outing, they faced off against Graigue Ballycallan and conceded 2-20. There’s no doubt that the defence has analyzed that display and stepped up the intensity, as their quarter-final showing against league winners Bennettsbridge proved. Ballyhale were certainly more miserly at the back, and restricted their opponents to just five scores in the second half, and only one from play.
While the ‘usual suspects’ have been motoring along nicely for the current All-Ireland club champions, there has been much praise for one of the newer recruits, Joe Cuddihy. In the first round at John Locke Park, Cuddihy finished with an impressive tally of 1-5 and was most people’s man-of-the-match. Against the Bridge he capped another fine performance and hot 0-4 in the process.
2020 young hurler of the year, Eoin Cody has continued his inter-county form with the club. The nippy forward has notched 0-10 in the championship to date, and has been involved in everything good about the Shamrocks attacking play this season. Another forward contributing the same scoring return is the evergreen Colin Fennelly. His two-goal salvo against Graigue was to prove crucial in getting the lackluster Shamrocks over the line that day.
In all games, the accuracy from placed balls is vital in securing victory, and in TJ Reid, Ballyhale shouldn’t be found wanting in this area.
In midfield, Ronan Corcoran has also been hugely impressive. As well as helping his side come out on top in the middle sector, he also managed to hit 0-3 last time out. Corcoran will be hoping to dominate the middle third and ensure a good supply of ball for his talented and accurate front six.
Evan Shefflin will look to keep things tight at the back and will need his fellow defenders bring the intensity form the last round into this weekend’s semi-final. The Ballyhale rearguard will certainly be expecting a busy afternoon, as their opponents, James Stephens have quality in the attacking zone.
Eoin Guilfoyle has been impressive all season, and will need to take advantage of any indiscipline from Shamrocks via the placed ball. He has great support from Cian Kenny, who hit 0-6 last time out against city rivals Dicksboro. The Village have their own version of Ronan Corcoran in Luke Scanlon. The towering midfielder will bring the battle to Ballyhale and as he’s shown in games this season, he can hit a score or two as well.
Goal-scoring quarter-final hero, Shane Donohue, may not find the opportunity to run the length of the park to raise a green flag this time. One would expect the Shamrocks forwards will keep the Village defence sufficiently busy this weekend.
The expected battle between Niall Brassill and Tj Reid could prove to be an exciting and interesting contest. The James Stephens centre-back will be keen to restrict the influence of his opponent and knows that any slip will be punished by the legendary forward. Niall can also hit a long-range score, so TJ will have to stick tight to his marker throughout.
The Village may look to find starting berths for both Eoin Larkin and team captain Conor Browne, both of whom were extremely influential when they entered the fray in the narrow victory of the Boro.
This encounter, a repeat of the 2019 final could be a feisty affair and both sides will know that maintaining the full quota of players on the pitch will be key to getting over the line. James Stephens haven’t won a county title in ten years; you’d be a brave man to back them de-throning Ballyhale this weekend.
VERDICT – Ballyhale to prevail
Tullaroan v O’Loughlin Gaels
1.30pm Throw in @ UPMC Nowlan Park
Should this semi-final turn into a toe-to-toe battle, the Sash will not be found wanting.
The Walsh – backed team have shown this season that they are not afraid to roll the sleeves up and get stuck in. In their two championship games to date, Tullaroan have shipped four six goals, and they will no doubt want to tighten things up at the back against the Gaels this Sunday.
The performances of county star and number 6, Padraig Walsh will be key in helping to decide this game. Padraig has been excellent this season all over the pitch. He has also weighed in with 0-8 in this year’s championship to date, seven of which came in his sides extra-time victory over league finalists Clara. If the Sash can get Padraig on the ball, he will dictate proceedings with his customary style and class. I would imagine that O’Loughlin Gaels will have a plan for the classy PW. Could this be one Mr. Paddy Deegan? The renowned inter-county man-marker has been deployed in the forward line during this season’s club matches. This could prove a master-stroke in curbing the influence of PW.
While Tommy stole many of the headlines following his goal against Clara, it has been Shane Walsh that has been responsible for keeping the scoreboard ticking over. Against Erins Own he finished with a tally of 0-9 and then went three better in the quarter-final win over Clara, registering 0-12. Shane has been deadly from frees and will look to continue his streak on Sunday. While the bookies rank the Sash as the least likely team to win the county title, they possess some fine hurlers, Walsh’s aside.
In Mossy Keoghan, they have a hurler that Brian Cody hasn’t been shy of putting his faith in. Keoghan will run all day and will chip in with a score or two. Dylan Simpson is another that will trouble the score board and bring great vigor to the game. John Walton and Thomas Dunne will leave all on the turf and all will be driven on by Martin Walsh.
Sunday’s opponents, O’Loughlin Gaels are seen by the punters as the most likely challengers to the immovable force that is Ballyhale. Andy Comerford’s side have been motoring along nicely this season, very much below radar. They began their championship campaign with a 13-point win over a disappointing Rower-Inistioge team. The afore mentioned Paddy Deegan hit five lovely points that day and was the talk of the town. Not to be outdone be his club mate, Eoin Wall hit 2-2 and has also been lively and accurate in attack this season. The Sash defence will need to have their wits about them as Wall certainly Know’s where the net is! Mark Bergin will be keen to match anything that his opposite number Shane Walsh can do on Sunday. Tullaroan will also need to keep tabs on Eoin O’Shea and Conor Kelly too. In Defence, Huw Lawlor will be ready to deal with whatever he is faced with and will rise to the challenge.
O’Loughlin’s quarter-final match with beaten shield finalists Mullinavat was a much closer affair with the city side 6 points ahead at the long whistle. Again, new-found attacking sensation Paddy Deegan hit 1-1, while his partner in crime Mark Bergin hit 1-10. They lead for all that game, and when Mullinavat started to close the gap, Deegan dropped into the middle third to nullify the threat.
Should this game go the distance, and beyond into extra-time, Tullaroan will fancy their chances of prevailing in their role as the underdog.
VERDICT – Too close to call, The Bookies say O’Loughlin’s …but it might be The Sash!
>> SHERRY SAYS………..
UPMC Nowlan Park will be buzzing on Sunday. The final four in this year’s St Canice’s Credit Union Kilkenny senior club championship will take to the hallowed turf at the home of hurling.
We have been treated to some great matched this season so far, and one feels that Sunday’ servings might just improve on that!
O’Loughlin Gaels vs Tullaroan, now that’s a tasty clash. These two sides will start the ball rolling on Sunday. The match-up will again prove crucial. Will Paddy Deegan pick up inter – county team mate, Padraig Walsh? Whichever of these two talented and classy hurlers has the better game, could well swing it in their team’s favour.
The dead ball will as usual, be a primary source of scores for both teams. Shane Walsh vs Mark Bergin. Now that has a quality ring to it.
The Sash with their 20 titles in the cabinet would love to get back on the club throne, their last title was way back in 1994 – Ray Houghton vs Italy – remember that goal?
The supporters will no doubt make themselves heard on Sunday and this will make for a fantastic atmosphere.
Following the Sash and Gaels clash, comes James Stephens and Ballyhale.
The city side will be pumped up for this semi-final clash. They know that the task ahead won’t be easy – but they will lay it all on the line at 3:30pm on Sunday.
Scanlon, Brassill, Eoin Larkin, Conor Browne – these boys will empty the tank. In Guilfoyle they have a reliable free taker with a little more to his game also. Cian Kenny will keep Holden & Shefflin busy.
Joe Cuddihy, Eoin Cody, Colin Fennelly and TJ Reid – a tantalising mix of forward artistry.
The Shamrocks have been improving with each quarter of hurling. They showed this in their win over league holders Bennettebridge.
Their quest for 4-in-a-row county titles goes on – and I have a sneaky suspicion it will continue beyond Sunday.
Catch these games if you can. Kilkenny club hurling – it’s where it’s at.