AFTER a season in the shadows, the Shamrocks are back in the senior hurling county final. No wonder then that manager Michael Fennelly senior reported that everyone in the Ballyhale camp is looking forward to Sunday’s clash with James Stephens, writes Trevor Spillane.
“There has been great rivalry there between the teams down through the years,” he said. “We’ll all be looking forward to the game.”
Better still, Fennelly expects to have a full panel to choose from this weekend.
“Everyone should be ok for Sunday,” the manager said. The only injury worry we have is Henry (Shefflin), who took a knock to his shoulder when he scored his goal against O’Loughlin Gaels in the semi-final, but he should be 100% in time for the match.”
After the O’Loughlin’s game Fennelly said that the Shamrocks were back where they wanted to be. Despite being Kilkenny’s most successful club side of the last decade - the Shamrocks have won four senior county titles, three Leinster and two All-Ireland senior club finals - hunger for more titles has driven the Ballyhale men back into the county decider.
“We have worked really hard over the last month,” said Fennelly. “We were determined to make up for the disappointment of last year (they were beaten in the county semi-final by O’Loughlin’s, going under on a 2-16 to 3-10 scoreline).
“Losing the semi-final last year brought a run to an end for us, but that’s sport,” he said. “It gave everyone a chance to refocus. It also helped us to bring back players - last year we were missing Henry and Paul (Shefflin) through injury. This time we had a full panel going into the semi-final, which was good.”
Getting time off helped recharge the Ballyhale batteries. It also allowed for some new faces to make their presence felt.
“We have a few new players coming through at the moment as well,” he said. “We’re injecting fresh blood into this team. They might be at the new end of the team but they have been able to add to the likes of Henry and Cha (Fitzpatrick). They’re fighting for places and creating competition in the side.”
And all that fight is going to be needed in what should be a testing final.
“It’s going to be a very difficult game against the Village,” Fennelly cautioned. “They have lost to us already this year, so we know we’ll have a big challenge to beat them again.
“They have lost county finals and that’ll be on their minds,” he added. “No side likes to be beaten in games like that. That will drive them on. That will be their focus.”
With all this in the mix Fennelly is predicting a good battle on Sunday - and a close one at that.
“There’s never much in it between these sides,” he said. “James Stephens have given some great performances to get into the county final and have guys like Jackie Tyrrell and Eoin Larkin performing well. They are two strong players who have shown great leadership in this side.”