The curtain-raiser to Sunday’s senior hurling final in Nowlan Park looks like giving early comers a treat. Near neighbours Thomastown and Bennettsbridge square up in what promises to be an intriguing minor Roinn A championship final.
The strength of hurling at under-age level in country areas is borne out by the fact that these two sides have reached this year’s final.
Thomastown reached the final, their first at this level since 1988, by beating O’Loughlin Gaels, Kilmacow in a thriller and St Lachtain’s (Freshford) in an equally absorbing semi-final.
Bennettsbridge opened their campaign with a one point win over neighbours Clara. They beat John Lockes (Callan) in the quarter-finals and Barrow Rangers (Paulstown) in the semi-finals
Bennettsbridge are one of the most famous clubs in the country. They were founded in 1888. They have won 12 senior championships. They last contested the senior hurling championship in 1974 when they were beaten by Fenians (Johnstown).
They also won two junior championships in 1948 and 1951. At minor level they have garnered two minor A championships, in 1947 and 1983. They won the minor B title when amalgamated with Danesfort in 1999 and a C championship in 2009.
Bennettsbridge are a club with a proud history. ‘Bridge players have, between them, amassed a total of 44 All-Ireland senior hurling medals, the first of which were won in 1933 by ‘Lovely’ Johnny Dunne and Liam Reidy. The last was won in 2003 by Kilkenny goalie, James McGarry, who also won Celtic crosses between the sticks in 2000 and 2002.
The club have also supplied five winning captains to the county, Dan Kennedy (1947), Mickey Kelly (1957), Seamus Cleere (1963), Jim Treacy (1967) and Noel Skehan 1972. Although the club have been experiencing a valley period of late, the signs are there that things are on the up again.
Sunday’s final will be an indicator of how far they have progressed
Thomastown Rangers and Thomastown amalgamated to form Thomastown United GAA club in 1972 and between them helped to set a record that is unlikely to be equalled. During the 1963 Leinster senior hurling championship and the 1964 All-Ireland series, Ollie Walsh of Thomastown, one of the greatest net minders of all time, was the Kilkenny No 1 goalkeeper while his understudy was Ray McEntee of Thomastown Rangers.
The Thomastown club has a total of 15 All-Ireland medals won by Peter Pendergast (1) 1947; Ollie Walsh (4) 1957, 1963, 1967, 1969; Tom Walsh (2) 1963, 1967; Cha Whelan (2) 1963, 1967; Dick O’Hara (3) 1979, 1982, 1983; Paudie Lennon (2) 1982, 1983.
Dick O was captain
They won their only senior championship title in 1946 when they beat Carrickshock in the final.
The club has always been to the fore at juvenile level.
Dick O’Hara captained the Kilkenny Vocational Schools All-Ireland winning team in 1975. Thomastown won an unprecedented seven under-14 hurling championships in-a-row between 1951 and 1957. Club member, Brendan O’Sullivan played in four Munster colleges finals with De La Salle, Waterford, senior and junior, hurling and football.
In more recent years Jonjo Farrell was the youngest player named in the Michael Lyng Motors Team of The Week when aged 16. He scored a goal in injury-time and two more in extra-time of the Southern junior semi-final replay against Windgap.
Like their opponents on Sunday, Thomastown have been trying hard to get out of the junior championship in recent years. Win or lose the success of this team will have given them hope as they strive for greater things at adult level in the coming years.
The Bennettsbridge brigade - Micheal Shiel (16). Student St Kieran’s College; Shane Nolan (17). St Kieran’s College; Robert Lennon (18). St Kieran’s College; Sean Morrissey (15). St Kieran’s College; Willie Murphy (17). St Kieran’s College. Paul O’Neill, capt (18). St Kieran’s College; Kevin Blanchfield (16). St Kieran’s College; Enda Morrissey (17). St Kieran’s College; Michael Power (16). CBS Kilkenny; Hugh O’Neill (18). University of Limerick; all the rest attend St Kieran’s College, Eoghan O’Connor (17), Aidan Cleere (17), Liam Blanchfield (14), Cormac Wafer (17), Dylan Walsh (16), Kevin Brennan (15), Jason Cleere (15), Aidan Byrne (16), Bill O’Neill (15), Luke Dowling (14), Shane Byrne (14).
Path to the final - first round beat Clara; second round beat John Lockes (Callan); semi-final beat Barrow Rangers (Paulstown).
The Thomastown troops - Jonathan Barron (15). St Kieran’s College; Luke Blanchfield (18). Grennan Colletge; Brian Bradshaw (18). St Kieran’s College; Adrian Burke (16). Grennan college; James Burke (15). Grennan College; Kevin Butler (18). St Kieran’s College; Edward Conway (17). Grennan College; Michael Donnelly (17). St Kieran’s College; Andrew Kehoe (18). Grennan College; Gary Lahan (17). Grennan College; Jamie Lanigan (15). Grennan college; Eoin |Manning (18). Grennan College; Gary Mason (17). Grennan College; Darragh McGarry (16). St Kieran’s College; Robert O’Hanrahan (18). St Kieran’s College; Thomas O’Hanrahan (18). St Kieran’s College; Cian O’Mara (15). Grennan College; Neil O’Mara (18). Grennan College; Liam O’Shea (17) Grennan College; Liam Tennyson (16). Grennan College; Kieran Treacy (18). Grennan College; Andrew Walsh (16). Grennan College; Mark Walsh (18). Grennan College; Barry Whelan (17). Grennan College.