BY NIALL SHERRY
Shamrocks, Danesfort & Blacks and Whites take to Leinster as action resumes
Having secured their respective county titles, Shamrocks Ballyhale and Danesfort take to the hallowed UPMC Nowlan Park turf this weekend as both sides kick-start their bid for provincial glory.
In many ways teams are stepping into the unknown, but you can rest assured these two Kilkenny outfits will have done their homework on their opponents as they seek to prolong their club season for as long as possible.
Shamrocks Ballyhale vs Castletown-Geoghegan
For Shamrocks Ballyhale, the pain of their last season’s All-Ireland defeat to Ballygunner is still there, and you got the sense through the county championship, that this panel would love the opportunity to right the wrongs of that bitter day at Croker when Harry Ruddle struck late to deny James O’Connor’s men a third national title on the bounce.
Now under the guidance of Mullinavat man Pat Hoban, Shamrocks have been progressing nicely and will hope to continue their quest when they face Westmeath champions Castletown-Geoghegan on Sunday (throw-in 1:30pm).
So, who are Ballyhale’s opponents this weekend?
Castletown-Geoghegan are 14-times champions in the Lake County. Having lost 3 consecutive finals, the boys in black and amber defeated Clonkill by 5-points in the Slevins Coaches Senior ‘A’ Hurling Championship Final at TEG Cusack Park, early last month.
The sight of the Kilkenny County champions battling against a rival provincial side in black & amber will be a little strange, to say the least.
Last month’s win for Castletown-Geoghegan was their first title win since 2017, and as we said earlier, this side has been banging on the door since their last win, and this year they were full value for their win over club kingpins Clonkill.
Managed by former Westmeath inter-county star, Alan Mangan, the Lake County side have a nice blend of youth and experience throughout their side and it will be fascinating to see how they fare against their more illustrious opponents when they make the journey to UPMC Nowlan Park.
There’s no doubt that Castletown-Geoghegan’s main scoring threat has come from inter-county hurling regular and star forward, Niall O’Brien. The talented hurler top-scored with 0-8 last time out, with seven of those points coming before the short whistle sounded.
This left those in stripes 6 points to the good at the interval, and Mangan’s charges never appeared in any real danger of relinquishing this lead. As well as being accurate from the placed ball, O’Brien is capable of firing over from open play whatever the angle. Indeed, in his sides victory, he struck a mighty point from tight to the right sideline, one that TJ Reid would be proud of!
Alongside Niall O’Brien, Castletown-Geoghegan had eye-catching scoring displays from midfielder Mick Heeney, who notched 0-3 from play in the opening half, while young rising star David O’Reilly finished the day with 0-4 as he caused the Clonkill defence lots of problems from his No-14 berth as he went on to collect the man-of-the-match award. Of the starting front six in the county final, only Shane Clavin failed to get on the scoreboard. The Westmeath side also had impact from the bench, with two of those sprung getting in on the scoring act.
Hurling at this time of the year can be tricky, and the fact that Alan Mangan’s men registered 0-22 shows that Shamrocks Ballyhale would be unwise to take Sunday’s opponents lightly, not that they will, that’s for sure.
One of the biggest tests for Castletown-Geoghegan will be how they deal with the attacking threat of Shamrocks. Their defence marshalled by full-back, Johnny Bermingham at full-back and Liam Varley at ‘6’ will need all their wits about them when dealing with TJ, Colin Fennelly and Co. Goalkeeper Ciaran Glennon will be hoping that he has a quiet afternoon, but you get the sense that the Ballyhale attacking unit might have other ideas, and the netminder be busy.
Pat Hoban will have been preparing his side for this challenge since they lifted their 5th county title on the bounce having put James Stephen’s to the sword last time out.
One of the features of that game was the performance of Joe Cuddihy. Joe had been one of the stand-out performers during last season’s bid for glory and his return to the Shamrocks colours is a real boost for the Kilkenny side. Joe hit 1-2 in the win over The Village and was a constant threat throughout proceedings and combined well with his fellow forwards as they won county title number 20. Recently announced All-Stars, TJ Reid and Adrian Mullen will look to continue their fine form against the Lake County champions.
The Ballyhale Bainisteoir has many tools at his disposal, and whichever XV get the nod on Sunday, Hoban will be confident that his troops will have more than enough about them to get over the line against Castletown-Geoghegan. Should the favourites prevail and emerge victorious against the Westmeath champions, that will set up a Leinster semi-final clash against the winners of Saturday’s quarter-final clash between Naas (Kildare) & Shinrone (Offaly) on November 27th in what will be a provincial semi-final double-header at Croker.
Danesfort vs Trim
Taking to the UPMC Nowlan Park a day earlier, will be Kilkenny Intermediate Champions, Danesfort. Having disposed of Thomastown in the county final, and securing a return to senior hurling for next season, some will see this as ‘bonus territory’, but I’d imagine these people won’t be within the Danesfort camp.
Niall Bergin’s side have accomplished their main aim of getting back to the top table, but they possess enough quality to trouble sides across the province of Leinster during the AIB Club Championship. The first step on this path will be taken tomorrow when Danesfort take on Meath’s intermediate champions, Trim.
Having seen off rivals Ratoath in the Meath final by 3 points, Trim will be hoping to claim a famous scalp with an away-day victory against the ‘Fort at UPMC Nowlan Park. Jimmy Canty’s team will arrive in the Marble City in decent form, and in young wing-forward James Murray, have an exceptional young hurler who would grace many more illustrious hurling clubs across the island.
Murray finished his day’s work with 0-10 in the victory of Ratoath, six of these scores coming in a vibrant opening half. Within Murray’s tally were two incredible sideline cuts, this young hurler has a confidence that belies his years. Rightly awarded the player of the match award, Danesfort captain Des Dunne will need to keep an eye on this rising star.
While Murray’s finishing was a major factor in Trim’s victory, the defensive shift put in by their back six cannot be underestimated. The Trim rearguard is expertly marshalled by centre-back James Toher. In the victory over Ratoath, Toher had Dimmy Higgins and Conor Quigley on either side of him and they never gave their opponents a sniff.
Trim are a dangerous opponent and Niall Bergin will have drilled that into his Danesfort side. You get the sense that Trim’s tally of 1-13 may not be enough to get the better of the ’Fort. While the 1-36 registered in the extra-time win over Thomastown, may not be repeated tomorrow, the likes of Richie Hogan, Jack Bruton, young Ben Whitty and Robbie Walsh will fancy their chances of unlocking a tightly run Trim defence.
Experienced campaigners, Richie and Paddy Hogan, Robbie Walsh and Paul Murphy will look to spearhead Danesfort’s provincial bid tomorrow, knowing that their sides blend of youth and experience should see the men in stripes progress to a possible meeting with Tullamore (Offaly) or Fr Daltons (Westmeath), again with home advantage.
>> SHERRY SAYS…
So, we have got the county titles in the cabinet, a little bit of celebrating has no doubt been done across the counties, but attention now turns to provincial matters and the AIB Leinster Club Hurling Championship.
Junior champions, Blacks & Whites are in action in TEG Cusack Park tomorrow, where they will battle against Ringtown of Westmeath. This will be a stern test for the Kilkenny side, but they will hope to come out on the right side of the result.
Danesfort will look to dim the rising flames of Meath intermediate champions Trim at UPMC Nowlan Park tomorrow – I’m really looking forward to seeing Des Dunne captaining the ‘Fortin what should be a decent battle. Should Niall Bergin’s side rack up half their county final total, that may well be enough. The stage is set for the likes of Whitty & Bruton to shine.
Shamrocks Ballyhale will look to guard against complacency when they look to put on their Sunday best against Westmeath champions Castletown-Geoghegan. Keep Lake County star Niall O’Brien in check and this will go some way to securing a semi-final berth in Croker later this month.
Let’s hope the pitches hold-up well and allow our hurlers to display their talents as Leinster and beyond look-on.