Offaly champs ready for Noreside’s finest
BY NIALL SHERRY, SPORTS EDITOR
Leinster GAA AIB Senior Club Hurling Championship Semi-Final
Glenisk O Connor Park, Tullamore, Saturday 1:30 PM
Referee: Sean Stack
Kilcormac-Killoughey vs O`Loughlin Gaels
The penultimate step in what O’Loughlin Gaels hope will lead to provincial glory see’s Brian Hogan’s men make the trip to Tullamore tomorrow to tackle the challenge of Offaly champions Kilcormac-Killoughey in what will be another stern test of their Leinster title credentials.
Should OLG prevail this weekend they would be rewarded with a Leinster Final appearance a week later in Croke Park against the winners of the other last four tie between Naas vs Na Fianna (Laois Hire O’Moore Park, Saturday 3pm). The Noresiders won’t be looking that far ahead just yet, as they will know that K-K will fancy their chances of claiming a second O’Neill Cup in the absence of Shamrocks Ballyhale.
Shane Hand’s Faithful County side certainly won’t be rusty or undercooked when they take to the O’Connor Park pitch to face the Kilkenny champs and will come into the match full of confidence having dispatched Wexford side Naomh Eanna in their recent quarter-final clash. Despite trailing by 2-points at the interval, K-K put on the burners early in the second half to take control of affairs and ran out convincing fourteen-point winners at Chadwick’s Wexford Park.
Any side that goes into opposition territory and comes away with such a resounding victory will deserve respect and you can bet that Brian Hogan and his management team will have done their homework on their semi rivals ahead of tomorrow’s game. Much like OLG’s quarter-final opponents MLR, Wexford’s Naomh Eanna had a lengthy period of inactivity having secured the Slaneyside crown in August, and despite challenge games against the likes of bookie’s favourites for the All-Ireland title, Ballygunner, Conor McDonald and co. couldn’t build on their halftime lead.
Having claimed their 5th Offaly title with an eighteen-point win over holders Shinrone, K-K have an interesting mix of youth and experience. At one end of the spectrum, you have James Gorman, a bustling full-forward and real focal point for his sides attack who hit 1-3 last day out and collected the MOTM and at the other end, a real up and coming talented hurler in the shape of Adam Screeney. A star of the Faithful County’s U20 side, Screeney notched 1-7 against Naomh Eanna and seems to have taken to senior club hurling with ease and looks to be enjoying having Gorman’s commanding presence in and around him, benefiting from flicks and passes which lead to goal scoring opportunities in many games.
Another reason for Adam settling so quickly is the presence of his older brother Jack who contributes much to this K-K outfit. Throw another young star; in Charlie Mitchell, who hit a brace of majors in their county final win into the mix, and you can begin to see that the Offaly side possess ammunition to hurt all defences.
In midfield, the duo of Colin Spain and Damien Kilmartin will put in the hard work with the former more than capable of scoring from distance as he showed against Naomh Eanna. This centre field pairing is also not shy of sending in booming deliveries to James Gorman, which tends to cause a little panic in opposition rearguards.
The crucial ‘6’ position is normally occupied by Cillian Kiely who commands the half-back area effectively. Kiely is not averse to roaming forward and troubling the scoreboard, from long-range placed balls and from open play. Cillian will most likely be flanked by Jordan Quinn and Enda Grogan, the latter who is an experienced campaigner that helps the younger players around him. One of these youngsters is Brecon Kavanagh, who like Adam Screeney is in his first full season with the senior K-K team. Kavanagh is building a reputation for his excellence in defence, as shown when his U20 side retained their county crown.
Kilcormac-Killoughey have a strong depth to their panel in terms of numbers, and again promising rising stars appear ready and able to give all for their club’s cause. The likes of James Mahon, Ter Guinan and Lochlann Kavanagh can give their team that much needed ‘bounce’ from the bench when the need for fresh legs arise.
O’Loughlin Gaels will know that they will have to raise their performance levels a little from their last outing against Mount Leinster Rangers. Despite winning with ‘relative’ ease, Hogan’s charges will expect tomorrow’s opponents to be more match ready, as unlike MLR, they haven’t been laid up without competitive action.
In the win at Netwatch Cullen Park, there was plenty to admire from the St Johns Park side, but we can all agree they didn’t have to go into the ‘Shamrocks Ballyhale zone’ against the Carlow champions. OLG did enough, without hitting those levels that may be needed tomorrow, and if successful, will certainly be required in the provincial decider.
The management will hope that the forward line chips in with a few more scores in Tullamore, Mark Bergin aside, there should be plenty more in the tank from the likes of Bolger’s Sean and Paddy, Eoin O’Shea and goal scorer Owen Wall. O’Shea, Wall and Sean Bolger didn’t raise an umpire’s white flag against MLR, and while Wall did notch a major, all be looking over their shoulders at the likes of Luke Hogan and Conor Kelly who add some stardust when sprung from the bench.
O’Loughlin’s county contingent didn’t appear to have suffered any ill effects from their recent trip to America with the Kilkenny squad and manager Hogan will demand more top-level performances from Messrs. Deegan, Lawlor, Butler and Heary in the battle with Kilcormac Killoughey. Having picked up All-Star awards recently, Mikey Butler and Huw Lawlor are defenders that would grace any side, Limerick included and will be determined to get another trip to Croker, this time with their club. While county final hero Paddy Deegan may not have got the All-Star nod, his nomination shows the sort of regard that the versatile powerhouse is held in. Sometimes versatility can be a curse as well as a blessing.
Winter hurling, as we’ve said before, is a great leveler and you never know what surface awaits you at this time of year. O’Connor Park is a decent county ground, and despite much wet weather recently, hopefully the surface holds up for both sides to display their worth and put on a decent show for all in attendance.
• It’s a triple Kilkenny threat that seeks to advance across the province this weekend. Along with senior champs, OLG, our junior and intermediate kings are also in semi-final action.
All games throw-in at 1:30pm with Tullogher Rosbercon taking on Fr O`Regans Craanford at St. Patrick’s Park Enniscorthy while Thomastown are also on the road and head to Páirc Tailteann for a clash with Meath’s Kildalkey.
Walter Walsh and John Donnelly will look to spearhead their sides challenges tomorrow and once again highlight the strength of club hurling in Kilkenny.
I fancy both Noreside representatives to continue their winning runs and advance to their respective finals which are scheduled to be held on Saturday 9th December.