BY NIALL SHERRY
ALL PIX BY DANNY LAHART
Carlow trip will be no honeymoon for Ballyhale
2021 AIB Leinster Club Senior Hurling Championship Quarter Final
Mount Leinster Rangers Vs Shamrocks Ballyhale
Netwatch Cullen Park – 2:00 PM Saturday 4th December
All roads will lead to Netwatch Cullen Park tomorrow, as the Kilkenny senior hurling champions, four years running, Ballyhale, put their provincial title on the line, when they face Carlow kingpins Mount Leinster Rangers.
Originally scheduled for last Saturday, the game was moved to tomorrow, which allowed a certain Mr. TJ Reid to tie the knot! One would imagine the honeymoon will have been put on the back-burner, for the time being.
James O’Connor’s side know that a difficult proposition awaits at the home of Carlow GAA. No doubt there will be a raucous crowd in attendance, the majority will be cheering on the Carlow champions.
Mount Leinster Rangers won their county title way back on September 19th, and this might be a cause for concern for their manager, Conor Phelan, although plenty of his panel have been plying their trade with the footballers on their march to the semi-final of the Carlow senior football championship. As a proud dual club, this is seen by some as a benefit, while others may hold a different view.
Their 8-point county final win over great rivals St Mullins was an emphatic statement of intent, as they secured back-to-back titles. In a blistering opening half, Rangers registered 0-17, all of which came from play. This shows that there is plenty of firepower available in the Carlow champion’s side.
Ten of their first half tally came from the hurls of the Nolan brothers, Jon and Chris, who on their day can prove tricky to mark. In fact, sixteen of the Rangers total came from their full forward line, so Joey Holden & co. will need to be on the front foot come throw-in to help snuff out the oppositions attacking threat.
Some will see this as a ‘free hit’ for the Carlow side. This can prove dangerous, should the bookies favourites to retain their All-Ireland crown, underestimate their opponents. Rangers last reached the club final in 2014 and they will certainly take to the Netwatch Cullen Park pitch knowing many have written them off.
Shamrocks know that winning the midfield battle, will be key to gaining the upper hand in this quarter-final fixture. To that end, the impressive form of Ronan Corcoran and his partnership with Brian Cody should mean that the Kilkenny side can dominate the engine room. Corcoran in particular, has been quietly building his reputation this season, and some of the scores he has taken, have been quite delightful.
Fiachra Fitzpatrick and his midfield partner last time out, Tony Lawlor notched 0-3 between them in their county final, and our lads will have brought be up-to-speed on their opponents in this crucial sector.
The Rangers rear guard, skippered from corner-back by Michael Doyle, will have had plenty of time to study the attacking prowess of Ballyhale – studying is one thing, coping with the Shamrocks front six, is another matter.
TJ Reid, Adrian Mullen, Eoin Cody, Joe Cuddihy, Colin Fennelly, Eoin Reid and Liam Barron. Plenty of sting in the Shamrocks forwards.
Providing TJ hasn’t flown to Cancun on honeymoon – expect any indiscretions from the Carlow champions to be punished with deadly efficiency. TJ’s ability to drop deep and forage for ‘dirty ball’ and deliver to the forwards left inside will be interesting. Joe Cuddihy has been a revelation this year. He has provided a different style of attacking threat to his teams forward dynamic. Eoin Cody needs no introduction and you feel that Saturday could be a big day for the Kilkenny star. Adrian Mullen’s phased return to club hurling has been timely. He was very hard working in the county final, and showed some lovely link-up play in the defeat of O’Loughlin’s. If the going gets tough, Adrian won’t be found wanting.
Ballyhale tend to have a spread of scorers on the board, and this is backed up by the fact that they only had one player (TJ) in the top 10 scorers in this year’s county championship. Evan Shefflin can chip in with the odd score, as can the conductor from No.6, Richie Reid. The goal that corner-back Brian Butler scored in the county final, was a thing of beauty, skill, power, pace and accuracy. I’d love to see another one of those tomorrow!
Should some of the defenders leave the house, you can rely on recently retired county star, Joey Holden to mind the valuables! Behind Joey & co. will be Dean Mason. The net minder has been in impressive form in the championship to date, and did well on a number of occasions against Paddy Deegan and his teammates last time out. His ability to find fellow Shamrocks from the puck-out will be vital tomorrow, as should the Rangers secure enough possession, they do have the tools to carve out and take scoring opportunities.
Hurling at this time of the year can be difficult. The playing conditions underfoot, the howling winds, the aching legs and muscles, make it a real challenge to shine.
I fully expect Shamrocks of Ballyhale to weather the Mount Leinster Rangers challenge, and send a timely reminder to the rest of the province and Island, that they haven’t gone away you know!