Mighty Ballyhale Shamrocks will be out to write another glorious chapter in an already remarkable story in Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day.
The Kilkenny and Leinster champions play Munster kingpins, Kilmallock (Limerick) in an intriguing All-Ireland club senior hurling final that has thrown the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ of the game together, if you like.
The Shamrocks, possibly one of the smallest parishes ever to win the title, have contested six finals. Their strike rate has been terrific - 5 wins out of six.
For a small club that won its first Kilkenny senior championship final in 1978 and added 13 more since, the Shamrocks have enjoyed a hard to credit run of success. Indeed, their first win outside the county was in Leinster in ’78 and the wearers of the green and white have never lost the knack of winning.
They top the poll in Leinster with eight wins.
Kilmallock, the club of All-Ireland medal winner Mossy Dowling (1973) and All-Stars Paddy Kelly, Dave Clarke, Mike Houlihan (2) and Andrew Shaughnessy - the last one in 2007 - have been kings in Limerick on 11 occasions; three times in Munster but never at All-Ireland level.
They did contest the national final in 1993, but Sarsfields (Galway) proved too good for them.
The Shannonsiders, guided by former Clare star, Ger O’Loughlin, have county stars in Gavin O’Mahony, Paudie O’Brien and team captain, Graeme Mulcahy and they have sky high hopes. Their journey to Croker earned them wins over Sarsfields (Cork), Cratloe (Clara) in the provincial final after extra time in a high scoring affair (1-32 to 3-18) and Down’s Portaferry in the All-Ireland semi-final.
They are an out and out hurling side, much like the Noresiders. A game of high skill awaits.
The Shamrocks reinvention under new manager, Andy Moloney, trainer Colm Bonnar and selectors, John Drennan, Patrick O’Sullivan and Tommy Phelan was a big part of the story of the Kilkenny championship 2014. A group that looked to be aging and creaking was suddenly reinvigorated with a reshaping of the defence, with county men Michael Fennelly (6) and new Kilkenny captain, Joey Holden (3) manning the two central berths.
The Shamrocks thundered forward, dethroning Clara in Kilkenny; beating Kilmacud Crokes in Parnell Park; Kilcormac Killoughey after extra-time in the Leinster final before producing a sure and stylish All-Ireland semi-final win over Gort (Galway).
This is a fine Shamrocks outfit. Five of the six forwards won All-Ireland senior medals. Big names abound - 10 times All-Ireland medal winner, Henry Shefflin, T.J. Reid, Colin and Michael Fennelly, James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick....
Yet it has been some of the lesser lights like the ageless Bob Aylward (37), Paul Shefflin, Conor Walsh, Richie Reid and so on who have, in their own quietly efficient way, made things happen. Lesser lights they may be, but it is often in the second tier that stars and champions are born.
Shamrocks, simply because of their sheer class, have a right good chance of adding to their long list of wins. Every team, as manager Moloney warned, can be beaten.
Judging by what Shamrocks have shown since late September when they unveiled their new look team, Kilmallock will need to hit a very, very good day if they are to bring what would be the first senior club title back to Limerick.
It can be done, however. They are not worrying about Shamrocks. They are ready to let rip. Shamrocks face a huge mental challenge of coping with what will be a burden - being red hot favourites.
If they are not dazzled by the sparkle of their achievements, their hurling can see them through.
Ballyhale Shamrocks - Richie Reid, Alan Cuddihy, Joe Holden, Tom Coogan, Paul Shefflin, Michael Fennelly, Conor Walsh, Bob Aylward, David Hoyne, James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick, Henry Shefflin, T.J. Reid, Eoin Reid, Colin Fennelly, Mark Aylward, Eoin Knox, Eugene Aylward, Brian Butler, Gavin Butler, Brian Cody, Ronan Corcoran, Aidan Cummins, Michael Dermody, Eoin Doyle, Patrick Doyle, Donchadh Fitzpatrick, Enda Fitzpatrick, Liam Grant, Jack Kenneally, Kevin Mullen, Patrick Mullen, Keith Nolan, Conor Phelan, Patrick Reid, Joe Cuddihy.
2009-10 Shamrocks v Portumna (1-19 to 0-17); 2006-07 Shamrocks v Loughrea (3-12 to 2-8); 1989-90 v Ballybrown, Limerick (1-16 to 0-16); 1983-84 v Gort (1-10 each draw; 1-10 to 0-7 replay); 1980-81 St Finbarr’s (1-15 to 1-11).
One defeat in final - 1978/79, Blackrock (Cork) 5-7, Ballyhale Shamrocks 5-5.
The 44 winners
5 Ballyhale Shamrocks; 4 Birr (Offaly) and Portumna (Galway); 3 Athenry (Galway), James Stephens (Kilkenny), Blackrock (Cork); 2 Loughgiel (Antrim), Sarsfields (Galway), Glen Rovers and St Finbarr’s (both Cork).
1 St Thomas, Clarinbridge, Kiltormer, Castlegar (all Galway); Midleton and Newtownshandrum (all Cork); Borrisoleigh, Kilruane MacDonaghs, Roscrea (all Tipperary); St Martin’s and Glenmore (Kilkenny); St Joseph’s, Sixmilebridge (Clara); Buffers Alley (Wexford).