The champs get a hesitant vote

Since the All-Ireland senior hurling final replay fans have witnessed some exciting games in the local championships, writes Nickey Brennan.

Since the All-Ireland senior hurling final replay fans have witnessed some exciting games in the local championships, writes Nickey Brennan.

The crowds travelled in big numbers to venues around the county, helped it must be said by favourable weather.

We headed to Nowlan Park for the senior semis confident that we would see two competitive matches. We were to be disappointed.

St Martin’s (Muckalee) may have been the outsiders of the four teams, but for long periods they proved to be more than a match for Ballyhale Shamrocks. They were the better side in the opening quarter.

The Martin’s defensive strategy, understandable against the breeze, meant that with an extra defender the Shamrocks enjoyed a liberal supply of the ball during the second quarter.

It took the Shamrocks longer than expected to take control. But as they have done so often, a second half goal opened the gates for them. We may not have seen the normal fluent hurling from the Shamrocks, but winning and getting to the final was the priority.

The second semi between Clara and Carrickshock was a huge disappointment. For whatever reason the ’Shock were completely off colour. They failed to provide any real test to the champions.

No one was expecting a 14 point winning margin given the closeness of last year’s county final between the same sides. Unfortunately for Carrickshock that margin did not lie. It was a reflection of Clara’s dominance.

Like in the first game, a goal was the crucial score again. It came just before the interval when a short puck-out for Carrickshock back-fired and the ball ended up in the net.

Without doubt we will see the two best sides in Sunday’s county final and that should ensure fans get a game to savour.

Clara is intent on holding on to the title. Their form slipped somewhat during the league but since their opening championship success against James Stephens they have looked impressive.

The champions may not have as many household names in their team as their opponents, but the overall balance of the side is its greatest asset.

They will miss Conor Phelan. He is a true leader, an outstanding forward. His absence will inspire his colleagues to an even greater effort. I wish Conor well and hope he gets back playing in the not too distant future.

If Clara is to retain the title they will have to defeat a side bristling with talent. Shamrocks, second in the roll of honour with 14 titles, know how to win finals.

They have restructured their defence with Joey Holden and Michael Fennelly manning the two central positions. This has brought stability to the rearguard.

That defence will be tested. Every Clara forward is capable of punishing a defensive lapse, so vigilance will be required from the Shamrocks throughout.

The outcome may well depend on how the Shamrocks attack copes against what is a solid Clara defence. Despite the Southerners having some of the best forwards currently playing hurling, they will come up against what is probably the best club defence around.

A big factor in determining the outcome of the final may well be the weather. The ball is no longer bouncing like it was weeks ago.

There are solid reasons why either side might claim this year’s title. However, the overall strength throughout the Clara team gives them a marginal advantage.

I take the champions to hold on to the title, but it will be close.

Early comers to Nowlan Park can look forward to an exciting minor final between city sides O’Loughlin Gaels and Dicksboro. Having lost last year’s final to Rower Inistioge the Gaels are determined not to lose on this occasion.

They will start as favourites but that will not deter their great rivals Dicksboro. Both clubs are very strong at underage level and it is no surprise to see them contest this year’s final.

Having already won Under 16 and Under 14 titles this year O’Loughlin Gaels will be very motivated to complete the underage hat-trick.