BY NIALL SHERRY
ALL PIX DANNY LAHART
Munster champs will test Coogan’s crew
AIB All-Ireland JHC Final
Mooncoin vs Ballygiblin (Cork)
UPMC Nowlan Park, Croke Park,
Saturday February 5th 2022
All eyes will be on the Mooncoin machine when it rolls into Croke Park tomorrow as they look to be crowned All-Ireland Junior Hurling Champions. Standing in their way will be Munster’s finest, Ballygiblin. Indeed, Saturday’s decider will be the seventh time that teams from the Marble & Rebel Counties have contested the final at this grade.
The memories of 2017’s painful defeat to Cork’s Mayfield will linger in the back of the minds for Willie Coogan’s charges, but this latest Mooncoin model has perhaps a little more about them this time round.
Goals have been a great friend of the Kilkenny and Leinster champions this season, and no doubt they will look to keep the green flag flying in tomorrow’s decider.
During this incredible march to the final, Coogan’s crew have registered some 23 majors, as their attractive attacking style has been rewarded in kind.
One of this teams’ major strengths is the spread of scorers across the games to date. Pa Walsh has certainly taken many headlines en-route to Croker, but the likes of Adam Croke, John Fitzgerald, Kevin Crowley, Killian Hogan, Ciaran Quilty and Mairtin Gannon have all weighed in with vital scores. Hopefully the knock sustained by Mairtin Gannon, that saw him replaced during the semi-final win over Salthill-Knocknacarra, won’t hinder the talented forward from taking is place in tomorrow’s final.
While greatly appreciated within the club, the performances of centre-back, Martin O’Neill have been one of the highlights of the campaign to date. From his No.6 position, O’Neill sets the tone and his distribution is magnificent. Defensively sound, his ability to notch scores is vital in the modern game. O’Neill has rifled over some delightful long-range points this season, and the big open spaces of Croke Park will no doubt encourage him to stride forward and strike from distance.
Behind Martin O’Neill, is likely to be full-back Shane Walsh, who has also been crucial in Mooncoin’s defensive displays this season. It is likely that Walsh will be given the job of containing the threat of Ballygiblin’s star attacker, Sean O’Sullivan. This won’t be an easy task, and his corner back colleagues may need to get in and around him at times to keep the back door shut. Keeping Sean O’Sullivan company in the Cork sides attack will be Kieran Duggan and Dean Barry. Both corner men possess a scoring threat and will prove a stiff test for the Kilkenny sides defence.
Ballygiblin’s half-forward line has an excellent blend of industry and ability. Colin English and Michael Walsh may trouble the score board more regularly than No.10 Dillon Sheehan, but the latter’s passing ability and link-up play is a key component of the North Cork side’s attacking style.
Should Mooncoin concede scorable frees, Midfielder Joseph O’Sullivan has the ability to punish them. The placed ball specialist hit 0-7 last time out, and was good for 0-9 in the Munster Final win over Skeheenarinky. Joseph also has the ability to score from the sideline cut to. Should Cork U20 All-Ireland winner, Darragh Flynn recover from a foot injury, enough to line out, he may well resume the free-taking duties.
While the Munster champions win in the All-Ireland semi-final over Lancashire side, Fullen Gaels was expected, they showed great hunger to keep going right to the end, and had a scoring total of 4-21 at the long whistle. Tipperary U21 All-Ireland winning captain from 2018, Colin English top scored for his team, hitting 2-4 in Portlaoise. Ballygiblin have been strengthened by the presence of Aussie rules man Mark Keane, who appears to have delayed his return down under to help drive his teams bid for glory. Both Keane from centre-back and team captain Fionn Herlihy are the anchors in the back 6. Keane’s ability to provide quality delivery into his attacker’s mirrors that of his opposite number Martin O’Neill.
Ballygiblin manager Ronan Dwane has benefited greatly from having a settled side through this season’s competitions. So, the majority of his starting XV will pick themselves. Corner-back Brian O’Gorman has been managing a tight hamstring for the last few weeks, but got through the one-sided semi-final victory without too many problems. Speaking after the win over Fullen Gaels, Dwane said he hoped the extra couple of weeks rest should stand to the influential Darragh Flynn.
Willie Coogan will be hoping that the wide-open spaces at headquarters will suit his strong-running side. If the service to his forward unit is provided, the Ballyhale native will be confident that the likes of Pa Walsh and co. will trouble the Cork sides defence and keep the score board ticking over. Ciaran Quilty is another Mooncoin player who was been in decent form in the season so far. His accuracy and direct style will be instrumental in the Noresiders bid for glory tomorrow. In the corners, Adam Croke and Killian Hogan have enough talent to keep their markers busy and create space for the supporting cast.
One of the men to taste defeat to Mayfield in 2017, was John Fitzgerald. The impressive forward hit 1-5 in his sides semi-final win and will hope to raise a few flags tomorrow.
Mooncoin netminder, Eoin Purcell will also look to continue his fine form and thwart the Ballygiblin quest for majors. His accuracy from the puck-out will hopefully create the platform for those in front of him to put the opposition on the back foot.
There certainly seems to be a huge buzz around the South-Kilkenny’s run to tomorrow’s decider in the Captial. The flags, bunting and posters are up and the whole community will be anxious to see their county and provincial champions clinch their 3rd piece of silverware this season. No doubt the Mooncoin faithful will travel in big numbers to Croke Park tomorrow believing that the treble is on. Their heroes on the turf will empty the tank in their quest to deliver.
>> SHERRY SAYS………..
Any trip to Croke Park is special. When the trip involves the chance to be crowned All-Ireland champions, it’s even more special. The Mooncoin club last made the trip to headquarters in 2017. Like tomorrow, it was Cork opposition that went toe-to toe with the Kilkenny side. Mayfield triumphed that day, 2-16 to 1-18, a one-point defeat for Joe Murphy’s team.
Eoin Purcell, Conor Brophy, Cormac Daly, John Fitz, Kevin Crowley all started in the show piece at Croker. Pa Walsh, Mark Kearns were on the bench. This experience will hopefully stand to Mooncoin when they run out at Croker tomorrow. Sometimes hurt can drive you on to the next level.
As we’ve seen, Mooncoin carry a serious scoring threat. Ballygiblin will be worried about the attacking force that they will meet. Ronan Dwane will look to captain Fionn Herlihy and Mark Keane to put the squeeze on the Kilkenny forwards.
With a bit of luck, Mairtin Gannon will be fit for selection. He has been pivotal to his side’s success so far this season. In Midfield Seanie Gannon will not be left wanting in the engine room battle.
It could well be a battle of the numbers tomorrow. Pa Walsh vs Sean O’Sullivan. Martin O’Neill vs Mark Keane. Whichever No.14 & No.6 come out on top, could go a long way to deciding which side prevails tomorrow.
The Mooncoin faithful will make plenty of noise in Dublin supporting their team, I fully expect Willy Coogan’s men to bring the noise on the pitch too.