BY NIALL SHERRY
All pix: Danny Lahart
St Rynaghs stand in Shamrocks way as Hogan plots upset
Leinster AIB Senior Hurling Championship Semi-Final
St Rynaghs (Offaly) Vs Shamrocks Ballyhale
Bord Na Mona O Connor Park, Tullamore, Sunday 1:00 PM
The Ballyhale machine will be back on the road this weekend, as they look to continue their impressive record in the Provincial series, when they take on Faithful County champions St Rynaghs in Tullamore on Sunday, in a bid to reach yet another Leinster club final.
St Rynaghs have actually won two senior hurling titles in the last 6 months, as the deferred 2020 decider against Kilcormac-Killoughey was only played in August, with the Banagher based team securing back-to-back county titles with a 6-point win. The 2021 final played last month was a much tighter affair, with Ken Hogan’s side emerging 2-point winners, thanks to a deflected last gasp goal from wing-forward Stephen Quirke, to break the hearts of their Coolderry opponents.
The win secured 3-in-a-row for St Rynaghs for the first time since the 1970’s, and in doing so completed a title double for manager Hogan. The former Tipperary Goalkeeping legend had managed his native Lorrha to the Tipperary Junior B Camogie Championship title in the morning before travelling up to Tullamore to guide his St Rynaghs charges to their late, late win.
The Premier County legend has something of the Midas touch. Hogan, actually led Coolderry to back-to-back Offaly titles in 2010 & 2011.
The Offaly champions possess a decent attacking threat, with the likes of Luke O’Connor, Aidan Treacy and Aaron Kenny particularly potent. James O’Connor will hope that Joey Holden & Co will be on their game and be a little more disciplined in their defending compared to the 3rd quarter against MLR last time out.
Indeed, the battle of the placed-ball specialists could again prove crucial as winter hurling continues.
In Aidan Treacy, the Offaly side have a player who is deadly accurate from long-range frees as well as the ‘bread and butter’ stuff. TJ Reid never seems to get flustered, whatever the occasion. His ability will be key, not only in terms of placed balls, but also in roaming deeper and delivering quality ball to the likes of Eoin Cody, Adrian Mullen and Joe Cuddihy.
Adrian Mullen’s resurgence this season has shown glimpses of why the hard-working talented forward was recently young hurler of the year. His ability to secure possession and take a range of scores, especially given the conditions underfoot at this time of year. His link-up with Eoin Cody and Joe Cuddihy could help sway the tie in Shamrocks favour. The trio notched 10 points of their sides total in the semi-final win at Netwatch Cullen Park.
Again, winning the middle third will give many clues as to which side will advance to the provincial final to play the winners of the other last four clash between Clough/Ballacolla and Kilmacud Crokes. Ronan Corcoran has been hurling with tremendous poise and skill this season, while his partner, Brian Cody, came to the fore against MLR, notching four points from play in the first half. They are likely to come against Joseph O’Connor and Ronan Hughes in the St Rynaghs engine room.
MLR manager, and Clara native Conor Phelan described Ballyhale as the ‘best team in the county’ in the wake of his sides 6-point defeat to the Shamrocks.
It would take a brave man to argue against the sentiments of Phelan. Sunday will be another step on the journey in retaining their All-Ireland title.