On Sunday local GAA headquarters, Nowlan Park, will house the second highest graded hurling final in the county.
Down for decision is the intermediate championship final featuring league and championship double chasers, Mullinavat against St Patrick’s (Ballyragget), a game which doubles as the promotion decider to the senior grade for 2015.
Both sides have reached this stage of the championship in recent years, yet neither club have made the step up to the top division.
The two sides have already met before this year in the league final decider, which saw the Southern side take the title by four points.
En route to the final this time round the black and white wearers have had to rely on corner-forward, Jamie Fennelly to perform some magic which played a huge part in securing their safe passage through.
In the quarter-final the ’Vat were hit for four goals by Young Irelands (Gowran), and a late strike was needed from Fennelly as they managed to squeeze through by two points.
The margin was the same when they beat Tullogher Rosbercon in Nowlan Park two weeks ago. Conor Hennessy looked to have grabbed an unlikely win for the noisy neighbours, but Fennelly once again calmly finished a 62nd minute goal for the winners.
It has been close all the way, but Mullinavat have shown nerves of steel.
The spine of their defence has recovered from the surprising concession of four goals against Young Irelands and Thomas Alyward and Pauric Gahan were dominant at full and centre-back in the clash against improving Tullogher.
They played some free flowing hurling throughout the Summer and in recent games have shown how good they are to grind down opponents. With a lively full forward line of Willie O’Dwyer, Jamie Fennelly and this year’s minor hurling star, John Wash, expect more goals in the final.
St Patrick’s are a team whose form has been up and down this year. Their form has been a little bit more unpredictable than their unbeaten opponents.
They lost to Conahy Shamrocks early in the group stages of the league, and also to Mullinavat in the league final. Yet, they are a team with unquestionable quality.
The Brennan trio of Michael, Joe and Geoff have been key to the march to the final. Michael has been deployed in midfield since the league final and he has been as effective and tireless as his partner Brian ‘Brooky’ Phelan.
Ballyragget’s forwards are also a force to reckoned with. Quality players like Joe Brennan and Kevin Kelly will test any defence.
Since moving to centre-back, Kieran Delaney, has been rock solid for Ballyragget and flanked by Geoff Brennan and Seoirse Kenny makes for a towering half back line.
St Pat’s overcame Dunnamaggin in the quarter-finals before seeing off Graigue Ballycallan in a rain soaked Nowlan Park in the semis. On both occasions Kevin Kelly got the majority of their scores from placed balls.
Mullinavat will need to keep their discipline if they are to snuff out the dangerous Kelly. It will be interesting to see where Kelly and Joe Brennan are deployed and whether or not Mullinavat will go man to man on Ballyragget’s two most potent finishers.
With O’Dwyer, Walsh and Fennelly will light up the opposing full forward line. An open shoot-out would make for a highly entertaining game.
It’s hard to see that happening, especially at this time of year. But if both line out as a normal 15 then it looks like being a high scoring game.
Tommy Buggy is the Pat’s manager. He believes the final is going to be a big test for his team.
“We’re definitely going to be up against it,” he insisted. “We saw at first hand how good Mullinavat were when we played them in the league final.
“They have some really good players down the middle, and especially in the forwards. Willie O’Dwyer and Jamie Fennelly are both lads who know how to handle the pressure on big match days, and we all know what John Walsh did in Croke Park in September.
“We got past Graigue Ballycallan the last day and Dunnamaggin before that. They were both tough sides with a lot of senior experience, and the wins gave us a lot of confidence heading into the final.
“Now it’s a totally different ball game. We know we are up against it. They’re probably favourites, and rightly so, but we know we have a good side and we’ll give it a right go.”
Declan Wall is going to be in the opposing dug-out. His charges are unbeaten this season, but he insisted that it could all come down to who gets the nod from the Gods.
“It depends on the attitude of the lads and how they’re going on the day,” he said. “We know its a 50-50 game. It’s a two horse race now and we are looking forward to playing in another final. Playing two in the one year in Kilkenny is not bad, for both clubs.
“We’re delighted to be there. Any time you are in a final is great, not just for the players but for their family and friends and for the parish of Mullinavat. We’re delighted after getting over Tullogher.
“At one stage we thought Mullinavat’s luck was running out, but we are in the final. We have to go out and grab what is a huge opportunithy with both hands. When you get a chance like this you take it. We’re looking forward to the final.”
Mullinavat are the slight favourites. If they can keep their current momentum going for just one more weekend, then their chances of going the entire season unbeaten look good.