A Kilkenny GAA club will this weekend attempt to book a big day out in Croke Park.
The Rower-Inistioge, the Kilkenny intermediate hurling champions, contest the All-Ireland club semi-final and the glittering prize for the winners is the chance to contest the final in Croke Park.
“We are going for it with all our might,” insisted Rower selector and former County Board secretary, Pat Dunphy. “The players are really up for the challenge.”
Standing between the Noresiders and a place in the glittering decider - it will be played under lights on Saturday, February 8 - are Antrim’s Clooney Gaels.
The last time the Gaels faced a Kilkenny team in the club championship was in 2007 when Danesfort beat them in the All-Ireland junior final.
The Ahoghill based club are a family outfit, made up by five Grahams, three Neesons and three O’Connells and others. Their 1-16 to 1-4 win over Cuchullains (Armagh) in the provincial decider was their first success at that level.
The bookies have installed the Rower as red hot favourites. They are quoted a 1-9 on to win, with the Gaels available at 5-1, with the prospects of a draw at 16-1.
The big clash is in Navan on Sunday, and the Kilkenny champions are taking nothing for granted.
“This is another challenge on a difficult road,” Mr Dunphy continued. “We have a clean bill of health. All the hard work has been done, but now we must turn it into a big performance.”
The Rower have progressed nicely since winning their first county intermediate title by beating Emeralds (Urlingford) in the final to go back senior after a 25 year wait. In the Leinster championship they beat Celbridge (Kildare) and Wexford’s Buffers Alley in a thrilling decider in Enniscorthy.
The latter success was on November 24. The Rower didn’t slacken their efforts since, and apart from a break of a week or so over the Christmas holidays, they have been in training since.
“The players are loving the challenge of the whole thing,” Mr Dunphy explained. “In fact, this club championship has been great for the club, the parish and community in general. I have experience of the club championship when others were involved, but when you own club is involved it is absolutely terrific.
“The introduction of the club championships has to be one of the best things to happen the GAA in recent times,” he added.
The Rower-Inistioge defence, built around Kilkenny star, Kieran Joyce, at centre-back has been the outstanding part of the team. All were terrific in the defeat of Buffers Alley, who had been relegated from the senior division the previous season before bouncing straight back up.
Eoin Doyle and Sean Cummins were powerful that day along with Joyce, while further afield team skipper, Michael Grace, Joe Lyng and Cathal Bolger did very well too.
The Kilkenny champions dug into their reserve talent that day, and two of their subs, Paul Sheehan, who was battling back to full fitness, and Ciaran Ryan made the score sheet.
This time last year Clara were contesting this championship. They went on to win it, and subsequently they swept all before them at senior level in Kilkenny, winning both the league and championship. That lesson is not lost on the Rower, who dearly want to make the final.