Two issues occupied the minds of fans at the Kilkenny senior hurling quarter-finals in Freshford and Nowlan Park on Sunday.
The more pressing matter for the large number of supporters of the eight teams was how their club would perform in the hope that they would reach the semi-finals. The second was wondering how Kilkenny will handle the style and hunger of the new All-Ireland champions, Clare.
The eyes of every supporter were focused on where the new Kilkenny backroom team will find the talent to tackle the Banner men next year. They have a tough job ahead judging by the four games on Sunday.
Erin’s Own (Castlecomer) was full of confidence in their quarter-final against Clara, a side that has impressed since the beginning of the league. Clara had three points to spare at the finish and they were the better side, but only marginally.
Their success was ultimately down to a superb performance from their half-back line. Here the Prendergast brothers, Neal and Shane, along with David Langton repulsed repeated attacks from the ’Comer men.
Their clearances were crucial is setting up some vital scores at the other end of the field. Both sides missed good goal-scoring opportunities during the game that may have made a difference at the finish.
With defences on top for much of the game it was down to whichever attack could make the better use of the possession which came their way.
This is where Clara held the advantage with Conor Phelan, in particular, leading by example. The winners must improve and they will, irrespective of their semi-final opposition.
Two statistics are worthy of mention from the second game in Freshford between St Martin’s and James Stephens. Firstly there was the huge contribution from Martin’s goalie Colin McGrath, who scored 2-3 from placed balls.
The second was the high number of frees awarded. There was little continuous play and for most of the 60 minutes we witnessed a shoot-out between Eoin Larkin and John Maher. Both were in impeccable scoring form, pointing from every angle and distance.
Martin’s knew this was a game they could win, and it showed in their play. James Stephens were far too dependent on Eoin Larkin and it was not until the closing stages that the inter-county star got some help from his teammates on the scoreboard.
St Martin’s lost James Maher to a harsh second yellow card with 10 minutes remaining and when Diarmuid Cody scored a goal shortly afterwards the momentum swung towards The Village. Almost immediately Colin McGrath fired a close-in free to the back of the James Stephens net to level the game.
With both teams missing good scoring chances a draw now looked on the cards.
In a frenzied finish St Martin’s scored a deserved winning point from a John Maher free. It may have been a tame first half but the second 30 minutes was most enjoyable.
Carrickshock may have won their tie with Dicksboro but they paid a heavy price with John Tennyson seriously injured and they had John Cahill red-carded.
The ’Shock were very sluggish at times but nonetheless ran out impressive winners at the finish. Shane Maher’s half-time red card robbed the ‘Boro of their leading attacker.
The city side had a couple of good goal-scoring opportunities late in the game but the victory went to the better team. Michael Rice was an absentee and Carrickshock badly need him back for the semi-final on Sunday week.
Current champions Ballyhale Shamrocks remain on course to retain the title. They got a stiff challenge from O’Loughlin Gaels but when the big questions were asked in the second half the Ballyhale men had the experience in a number of key positions to overcome their opponents.
After last weekend’s games Ballyhale Shamrocks remain favourites for the county title, but in truth all four semi-finalists are well-capable of lifting the Tom Walsh Cup.