The proud Ballyhale Shamrocks club are heading to Croke Park on Sunday to contest an All-Ireland final. There is nothing particularly new about that.
After all, the South Kilkenny outfit have made five entries in the history books, and they are the biggest winners of the senior club hurling championship.
However, on Sunday they will be hoping to make history of a different kind when they contest the All-Ireland club intermediate camogie final against Lismore (Waterford).
“A chance like this doesn’t come along too often,” insisted Shamrocks manager, John Kenneally when he ran the rule over what is a huge challenge against a Waterford outfit who operate at senior level, and who have contested two All-Ireland semi-finals in recent years. “We are ready. The tank will be emptied in pursuit of the title.”
The exploits of the camogie ladies has generated a great buzz in the parish, and men and women alike have been caught up in the excitement.
“We are going to Croke Park to represent Kilkenny, and we intend to do the county proud,” Mr Kenneally added. “When we started out around this time last year Croke Park was a million miles from our thoughts. Now we have a chance of winning an All-Ireland title.”
The decision to play the game in Croke Park has surprised, and delighted, in equal measure and all involved with the squad travelled to GAA headquarters on Sunday to run the rule over the place. There will be no surprises, no shock or awe factor when the Kilkenny ladies enter the big house this Sunday.
“The younger girls might be overawed the first time they walk into the place for a game, so hopefully that factor has been dealt with,” John added. “It has been a long and hard road, but a delightful one.”
The Shamrocks camogie club was founded in 1973, and the girls wear the same colours as the hurling teams. The camogie club logo is a three leaf shamrock with the letters K, B, K representing the three clubs that existed in the parish before (Knocktopher, Ballyhale, Knockmoylan).
The road to Croker started with a win (1-9 to 0-11) in the county final over Piltown, after extra time, followed the next day by a 2-18 to 3-5 victory over Oylegate (Wexford) and then Lucan Sarsfields (Dublin), 1-12 to 1-2.
Camross (Laois) were beaten by 3-3 to 1-4 in the Leinster final before Portumna (Galway) were dismissed in the All-Ireland semi-final.
“The story concerning camogie is no different to hurling in Kilkenny,” John Kenneally suggested. “If you win the Kilkenny title you have a chance of doing something outside the county. The hardest game we played was against Piltown. Piltown would probably be in the position we are in now if they had won the county title.”
And these ladies take no short cuts, no easy options. They had a 100% strike rate with pre-Christmas training sessions. Only two sessions were called off because of the awful weather since the turn of the year.
“They are a determined bunch,” John assured. “Rain, hail or snow they want to be out training. A number of our players have experience with county teams, and we are hopeful that will stand to them on the big day.
“If we play to our potential, we won’t be far off the mark,” he felt.
Shamrocks travel to Croker Park with one of their finest players, Emma Nolan, sidelined through injury. She suffered a hard to credit third cruciate injury, and will sit out the decider.
She has been missed, but her big hearted colleagues rolled on. Roisin Fennelly and Jacqui Frisby have been powerful leaders, along with Kellyanne Cottrell, Keeva Fennelly and Margaret Mary Fennelly.
The Noresiders have survived some tough battles, and shown they have lots of courage as well as talent. The wide open spaces of Croke Park shouldn’t bother them.
“It is all down to one game now,” John Kenneally said. “We are ready. Hopefully the bit of luck every team needs will be with us.”
Other team selectors are Angela Ireland O’Sullivan and Michael Fennelly (senior).