IF THE open draw hadn’t decided otherwise and thrown them together, this pair would probably have been fancied to get through to the county final no matter what the alternative match ups might have been.
Now, instead, the senior hurling champions of 2010, O’Loughlin Gaels and the team that reigned before them, Ballyhale Shamrocks must slug it out for a place in the decider.
The winners will be favourites to win the final on October 23, irrespective of what result or moving action the other semi happens to throw up.
This pair are not just good by Kilkenny standards, a fact which was underlined by O’Loughlin’s win in Leinster earlier in the season, and Shamrocks victory in the All-Ireland club final of 2010.
Both are capable of high achievement beyond the county boundaries. While neither would dare speak about such things at this time, other observers would certainly be looking at them as probable winners in the province, and possible winners beyond that.
Such speculation is for another time. Right now all that matters is the 60 minutes of hurling that will be played at Nowlan Park on Sunday.
Shamrocks, by virtue of their testing draw and replay against a quality Carrickshock team in the quarter-finals, are finely tuned and ready for any examination.
It could be argued that O’Loughlin’s couldn’t be facing them at a worse time.
Shamrocks got a fright against Carrickshock in the drawn tie. So they have been warned about being complacent.
On top of that, two hours’ of fiercely competitive hurling has left them as fit, mentally and physically, as any team would want to be.
Most certainly the likes of Henry Shefflin, James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick, Michael Fennelly, T.J. Reid, Eamon Walsh, Aidan Cummins and Colin Fennelly and so on all looked to be in peak form at the weekend.
All season long the Shamrocks have been looking towards this end of the season. They may have picked up the League title along the way, but their eyes were always on one prize, the Walsh Cup.
Measured against their opponents red hot weekend form, O’Loughlin’s were very sluggish against city rivals, Dicksboro in the other quarter-final. They could easily have lost.
Must hit another level
They eventually brought their game to the right pitch, and began to score at a decent rate during the closing 10 minutes, but they will have to rise to another level again if they are to live with the Ballyhale crew.
Dicksboro are no Shamrocks, so the Gaels had better be blowing at full force from the moment the ball is thrown in or else they will be buried.
There is a suspicion that O’Loughlin’s are not moving as well this year as they were in 2010. They will argue that they have been moving well enough to get to the semis, and now they ready for the next level.
Brian Hogan and Martin Comerford were powerful against the ’Boro. Maurice Nolan and the two Bergins’, Mark and Conor, Peter Dowling and a few others went well too, but a few more looked to have dropped below the competitive mark they attained last season.
Time will tell, but Shamrocks look a good bet to march on.
Ballyhale Shamrocks – Richard Reid, Paul Shefflin, Aidan Cummins, Ger Fennelly, Joseph Holden, Eamon Walsh, Bob Aylward, James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick, Michael Fennelly, Colin Fennelly, Henry Shefflin, T.J. Reid, Mark Aylward, Eoin Reid, Patrick Reid, Eoin Knox, David Hoyne, tom Coogan, Michael Dermody, Keith Nolan, Kieran Grace, Conor Walsh, Liam Grant, Enda Fitzpatrick, Alan Cuddihy, James Walsh, Donnchadh Fitzpatrick, Gavin Butler, Richard Deasy, Sean Malone, Ger Holden.
O’Loughlin Gaels - Stephen Murphy, Brian Kelly, Andy Kearns, Eddie Kearns, Alan O’Brien, Brian Hogan, Niall Bergin, Peter Dowling, Maurice Nolan, Alan Geoghegan, Martin Comerford, Niall McEvoy, Danny Loughnane, Mark Bergin, Conor Bergin, Sammy Johnston, Brian Dowling, Mark Kelly, Sheamie Cummins, Brian Murphy, Jack Nolan, Davy Broderick, John Doyle, Paddy Cantwell, Jason Quan, Michael Henbry, Richie Moylan, Daniel Lenihan, David Burke, Paddy Butler, Tony Forristal, Andy Cantwell.