O’Loughlin’s pose real threat to holders crown
BY NIALL SHERRY, SPORTS EDITOR
Shamrocks Ballyhale vs O’Loughlin Gaels
Sunday 29th October, UPMC Nowlan Park, 2pm
Referee: Peter Burke (Emeralds)
Sunday sees the showpiece game in the Kilkenny club hurling calendar, when Shamrocks Ballyhale face-off against O’Loughlin Gaels at UPMC Nowlan Park (throw-in 2pm). A large crowd is expected at headquarters for a game that promises much on paper, and given the way this year’s championship has gone, those in attendance should be in for a treat.
Shamrocks are gunning for their 6th consecutive title and 21st overall, to move them ahead of Tullaroan, while their opponents are going in search of the fifth senior title and first since 2016. As you would expect, Pat Hoban’s men go into Sunday’s decider as huge favourites and it would take a brave punter to go against the bookies on this one. But in a two-horse race you just never know what might happen. Brian Hogan will know that his charges will need to be at peak power to wrestle the Tom Walsh Cup away from the south Kilkenny powerhouse that is Shamrocks Ballyhale.
The Loughs will take to the pitch on Sunday with huge respect for their opponents, but determined to show little fear as they seek to upset the odds. There are still quite a few players in the squad that battled bravely against the Shamrocks in the 2021 decider, a game that saw six majors scored and just four points separating the sides at the long whistle that day. Indeed, two of the expected chief protagonists in this weekend’s clash, finished that day joint top scorers, TJ Reid (0-9) and Paddy Deegan (2-3). Could we see these two county stars keeping tabs on each other during Sunday’s encounter?
We might as well start with the legendary TJ Reid. The highly decorated attacking genius has once again been instrumental in the Shamrocks quest for continued glory as he has rolled back the years with a series of sparking displays as the All-Ireland club champions have battled the loss of key players and a slow start to the season, to once again take to the stage on the big day. TJ’s accuracy from the placed ball coupled with his undoubted skill and 360-degree vision marks him out as one of the most pivotal cogs in this Ballyhale machine.
TJ, along with his county colleagues Eoin Cody and Adrian Mullen have been instrumental in driving Shamrocks on through a testing campaign to date. While Cody and Mullen have many more years to ply their trade with club and county, the influence that TJ wields on them, and the entire panel is clear for all to see. In the last couple of games, the veteran forward has wonderfully plucked sliotar’s out of the sky, split the posts with stunning sideline cuts and fought as hard as any teammate to keep Shamrocks on track for further glory.
This trio of players will know that they need to perform to the highest level again on Sunday against a very dangerous opponent in O’Loughlin’s. Adrian Mullen’s form has been phenomenal since returning to club action, following more All-Ireland heartbreak in July this year. Every blade of grass on every pitch played on has been covered by the current Shamrocks captain who is clearly on a mission to be the next man from his parish to hoist aloft the Tom Walsh cup. In his side’s last-eight win over a heavily fancied Dicksboro outfit, Adrian put in a serious shift that day, creating, scoring, tackling, you name it he was doing it. Last season’s county captain, Eoin Cody has contributed hugely to Shamrocks renaissance during this campaign, when many pundits and Gaels were writing them off, and like his half-forward partners in crime will be keen to continue his good form on Sunday. Between the talented trio, they hit a combined 3-10 in their semi-final win over a disappointing Village side.
King of the air miles, Colin Fennelly has battled jetlag and injury to provide a dangerous focal point for his Shamrocks side. The big number 14 registered two majors against Brian Cody’s charges last day out, and he knows where the net is if given a sniff. Two younger members of the forward line, Niall Shortall and Eoin Kenneally have also been putting in decent performances in their sides run to the final. Kenneally in particular has been getting around the pitch, hooking, blocking and doing lots of the dirty stuff and giving a platform to their county forwards to do their thing.
At the back, the spine of Dean Mason in goals, Darragh Corcoran and Richie Reid have been getting better with every game. Dean has been pulling off some great saves while his restarts have been key in getting Shamrocks on the front foot. Pat Hoban’s decision to move Darragh Corcoran to full-back looks to be paying dividends, with the athletic player growing in stature in the Joey Holden role. As ever, Richie Reid’s game intelligence has been crucial in curbing the opposition’s attacking threat. Is there a better reader of the game in the county?
ROAD TO THE FINAL
Shamrocks 1-20 Dicksboro 0-21
O’Loughlin Gaels 0-18 Mullinavat 2-10
Shamrocks 5-19 James Stephens 0-14
O’Loughlin Gaels 3-16 Bennettsbridge 0-22
Brian Hogan and his backroom team will have spent the last two weeks studying the tapes and drawing up a plan to deal with Shamrocks Ballyhale. Hogan, who won seven All-Ireland’s in the black and amber, will know the importance of his sides current county contingent as they look forward to Sunday’s decider. The trio of Huw Lawlor, Mikey Butler and Paddy Deegan are the mainstays of this O’Loughlin’s side, while Conor Heary is a versatile hurler who brings strength and much ability to Hogan’s team.
You would imagine that Mikey Butler would relish the task of shackling the likes of an Eoin Cody in the final. Mikey loves to defend and sticks to his man like a second skin and that is the kind of treatment that Cody demands. Huw Lawlor is undoubtably one of the country’s finest full-backs and comands the square with great authority. Paddy Deegan is a natural 6. Like his opposite number on the Shamrocks, Paddy reads the game well and loves to power forward and strike a score. Would you get Deegan to shadow TJ? Or would you give that job to Huw Lawlor? Dilemmas for the Lough’s management team.
The St Johns Park side have the experienced Mark Bergin as scorer in chief. Like TJ, Bergin’s radar is generally on the money, and he doesn’t waste many placed ball opportunities. The former county man’s performance will be key to O’Loughlin’s chances of claiming the title on Sunday and will relish the prospect of pitting his wits against the Shamrocks in another county final. In the 2021 decider, the reliable Bergin notched 0-6 in their 4-point defeat to James O’Connor’s men.
Bergin will have good company in the Lough’s attack with the likes of Owen Wall, Eoin O’Shea and Paddy Butler hoping to cause havoc in the Ballyhale defence. As mentioned, Conor Heary has a really good engine and can pick off a point or two from distance. Two of the stars of the season so far for O’Loughlin’s have been David Fogarty and Jordan Molloy. Both these players are benefiting from having the experienced Paddy Deegan with them in a very formidable half-back line. Fogarty and Molloy both love to trouble the scoreboard also and you wouldn’t bet against them registering in Sunday’s final.
As always, the engine room of midfield will be a key area in the decider. O’Loughlin’s may go with Jack Nolan and Cian Loy in the middle third, while for Shamrocks it is likely to be Paddy Mullen +1. Pat Hoban will no doubt stress the importance of controlled aggression on Sunday, and perhaps have an extra word for Paddy before he takes to the UPMC Nowlan Park pitch. Both sides have the ability to ‘mix it’ and neither will back down in pursuit of the big prize on offer.
The stage is set for a really good contest. Both sides will be hopeful of victory but only one can emerge the winner. The Shamrocks are favourites and will look to secure six in a row, but O’Loughlin Gaels won’t be afraid of ripping up the script. Best of luck to both sides.
* Congratulations to last weekend’s winning sides in the Junior & Intermediate Championships.
Tullogher Rosbercon emerged victorious in their battle with St Lachtain’s on a scoreline of 1-19 to 0-17. A Danny Glennon major proved significant as did contributions from Walter Walsh, Marty Murphy and placed ball specialist Cian O’Donoghue.
Meanwhile Thomastown ended their long wait in securing a return to the top table of Hurling in Kilkenny by claiming the Intermediate title with a fantastic display of hurling to comprehenisvely defeat Mooncoin at UPMC Nowlan Park. Noel Doherty’s side were superb from the first whistle with Stephen Donnelly notching 1-8 in a MOTM performance in a game that saw county star John Donnelly register 0-6. Thomastown will now begin their provincial campaign and won’t fear any opponent at this grade.