BY NIALL SHERRY
Na Seamróga out to stop Crokes bid for glory
AIB Leinster Senior Club Hurling Championship Final
Shamrocks Ballyhale vs Kimacud Crokes
Sunday December 4th, Croke Park, Dublin
SHERRY SAYS…. FINAL PREVIEW
It’s back to Croker for Shamrocks Ballyhale and their faithful supporters this Sunday, as the Kilkenny champions go in search of O’Neill Cup number 13 when they take on the challenge of ‘super-club’ Kilmacud Crokes. The Dublin side are bidding for their first Leinster title, and what they hope will be the first of a double, as the club’s footballers will seek to clinch the ‘big-ball’ accolade at the same venue later in the afternoon.
Both sides secured their final berths last weekend with relatively straight-forward victories over Naas and St Mullins respectively. Pat Hoban’s men weathered a tricky first 20 minutes before getting to grips with the Kildare champions challenge and running out 12-point winners, ironically the same margin that Crokes had to spare over Maurice Aylward’s Carlow champions.
The back-to-back Dublin champs are a growing force with the sliotar. Under the guidance of Offaly native Kieran Dowling, Crokes are changing the face of club hurling in the capital.
Dowling and others dedicated to the Kilmacud club are not big fans of the ‘super club’ tag that has been levelled at them in recent times. There has undoubtably been a huge amount of work put in by many volunteers at the Stillorgan based club, and the players are now reaping the rewards by delivering big performances in both codes in recent times. The son of a former GAA President, Dowling has been involved with Kilmacud for some forty years since heading to the big smoke as a student, and is certainly invested in everything the Crokes are trying to do.
Winning successive county titles in Dublin sent out a massive statement to the likes of Ballyboden and Cuala. This year’s final saw Dowling’s side overcome the challenge of Na Fianna by 3 points, which then sent them into the provincial series where they faced-off against last season’s beaten finalists, Clough-Ballacolla in the quarter-final, who had taken Crokes scalp at the semi-final stage last year.
That defeat on a horrible night in Portlaoise would have stuck with the Dublin side, and they more than gained revenge when running out 9-point winners. Next up for Kieran Dowling’s side was St Mullins of Carlow. Having watched Naas rattle Sunday’s opponents Ballyhale, Kilmacud dispatched Maurice Aylward’s side with relative ease by 12 points.
Star of the show for the capital side is this year’s championship has been lively forward Oisin O’Rorke. The talented attacker sits at the top of the scoring tables this year, having scored 1-31 between his county final and provincial matches to date.
There’s no doubting this lad’s talent, and he will relish pitting his skills against the likes of Joey Holden, Richie Reid & the Shamrocks defensive unit. O’Rorke notched 0-11 last time and Pat Hoban’s men will need to be disciplined in their tackling, as the same man will punish most opportunities that come his way. You would imagine that new Dublin manager, Micheál Donoghue will perhaps have a conversation with O’Rorke to see if a return to the county scene might be possible.
Along with Oisin O’Rorke, Crokes will look to get big performances from current county men Ronan Hayes and Fergal Whitely. Hayes appeared to have goals on his mind in Croker last week, and did raise a green flag with a decent finish. Whitely hit 0-3 as did Dara Purcell while Micheal Roche and Brendan Scanlon finished with a brace each.
Kilmacud’s style appears to be based around pace all over the pitch. They certainly showed plenty of speed, especially in attacking situations in their last couple of outings, and Shamrocks will need to ensure that they close the door on Sunday, otherwise Dean Mason could have a very busy afternoon.
In midfield Crokes appear to have unearthed a gem in Brian Hayes. The younger sibling of county- star Ronan, Brian has impressed with his displays this year, and as mentioned previously, pace is a big part of his game.
This Kilmacud team play with a real sense of togetherness, many of the current panel played through the juvenile ranks together, and that is clear for all to see.
Having secured 5 county titles on the bounce, Pat Hoban’s team have been building up a head of steam gradually. Castletown Geoghan didn’t really lay a glove on the South Kilkenny side in the provincial last-eight tie, and Ballyhale didn’t even have TJ on the Nowlan Park pitch that day.
That performance was a reminder to the hurling world that there’s a fair bit of depth to this Shamrocks panel. Niall Shortall, Killian Corcoran, Colin Fennelly and Eoin Cody starred in the quarter-final and this set-up last week’s meeting with Tom Mullally’s Naas. The Glenmore native’s side gave Ballyhale a good work-out, especially in the first half, and this is exactly what Pat Hoban’s charges needed ahead of an appearance in the Leinster decider.
Two second-half goals from Joe Cuddihy and Eoin Cody saw Shamrocks win-out by 12 points at the long whistle, but the scare that Naas provided in the opening 20 minutes, will have served as a warning to the current provincial champions. Goalkeeper Dean Mason pulled-off some superb saves to ensure his team didn’t find themselves much further behind in the opening exchanges.
One of the key performers in the semi-final win over Naas was former county captain, Adrian Mullen. Yet again, the All-Star hurler put in a mighty shift, a combination of every facet of the game, including some classy scores from either sideline. Adrian will look to continue his fine form in Sunday’s showpiece, and help propel his club to a 13th Leinster title.
In midfield, Captain Ronan Corcoran and possibly Paddy Mullen will look to ensure their side dominates, both in terms of possession, but also physically. Both players notched a few scores between them against Nass, but will need to win the battle in the middle third, something Shamrocks boss Hoban spoke about this in the aftermath of his teams win last week, and he will want to ensure his side are ready for the challenge Kilmacud will bring to the engine room on Sunday.
Another key area for Shamrocks will be their half-back line. Marshaled by the brilliant Richie Reid, both Darragh Corcoran and Evan Shefflin have licence to get forward and join the front men. Both have shown a great ability to strike scores from distance, and this could be crucial in Sunday’s decider.
TJ will hopefully have rested his on-going injury over the last week and be ready to help clinch another O’Neill Cup for Ballyhale.
Big players like the big stage, and another outing in Croke Park with silverware on the line will hopefully see Shamrocks Ballyhale continue on their quest for the bigger prize.