WHAT an opportunity this is for both clubs to reach the senior hurling championship final. While the so called favourites and heavy hitters have been thrown together to battle it out in the other half of the draw, either James Stephens or St Martin’s (Muckalee) can slip quietly into the decider.
This is a contest that is wide open, there to be won or lost by either side. Neither impressed greatly in the quarter-finals, although both won handsomely.
James Stephens had 10 points to spare over gritty and hard tackling Graigue-Ballycallan (1-18 to 1-8). However, before the finish they had taken off three of their starting forwards, and now one of them, young Diarmuid Cody has a broken finger and won’t be involved on Sunday.
St Martin’s recorded a fine looking 1-16 to 0-6 victory over Fenians (Johnstown) in their quarter-final. However, because the Fenians were so poor, Martin’s would be foolish to make too much of that result.
Chance of winning
For both, the boost you get from a win was the only prize of value from the quarter-finals.
Hence, both clubs head to Nowlan Park on Sunday not sure of where they stand, but with a definite chance of winning and going through to the county final on October 23. That’s not a bad way to be heading into any semi-final.
Season long form would suggest ’Stephens have the advantage. Afterall, they did qualify for the League final, although they lost it to Ballyhale Shamrocks.
They would be more experienced at this level than the opposition, having featured in the latter stages of both competitions regularly over the past few seasons. Their star performers and leaders are county stars, Eoin Larkin and Jackie Tyrrell.
Larkin was powerful against Graigue. He shipped some heavy tackles, especially during the opening half, but he never took a step backwards. And all the time he was prepared to take the hits in order to create openings for colleagues.
He was powerful, and he helped get the best from attacking colleagues Niall Tyrrell, who scored three points, and Matthew Ruth, who has turned in some top notch showing this season.
Ruth, on his day, can be a match winner, or if not, certainly a game changer.
Driving play inspires
Tyrrell is a colossus, but especially at this level, where his power is unmatchable by most opponents. If Tyrrell decides he wants to drive forward, as he has a tendency to do, then very few are capable of stopping him. His driving play inspires all around him, while it inhibits opponents.
New manager Niall Rigney allows Tyrrell run free. That approach suits the player, while it benefits the team enormously.
St Martin’s have a nice balance to their team. They have plenty of handy hurlers. In fact, they are probably better than most would suspect.
Their new manager, Sean O’Neill, who is one of their own, has guided the players with a sure and steady hand, and they have responded well. John Mulhall, the man with the free spirit, is capable of doing great things for them, as are James Dowling, Eoin McGrath, Joe Maher, that great servant and warrior John Maher, Tom Breen, goalie Colin McGrath and others.
Martin’s can’t sell themselves short, or be inhibited by ’Stephens tradition or history. Remember, they were good enough to beat Shamrocks last season. The problem was, they didn’t build on that result.
Martin’s haven’t always in recent years matched promise with performance. Unless they do so this time, ’Stephens will rob them of that ticket into the final.
James Stephens - Derrick Brennan, Philip Larkin, Jackie Tyrrell, John Comerford, Eamon Sheehy, Tomas Keogh, Donnacha Cody, Niall McQuillan, David McCormack, Niall Tyrrell, Gary Whelan, Eoin Larkin, Jack McGrath, Matthew Ruth, Diarmuid cody, Fran Cantwell, Conor McQuillan, Shane Campion, Patrick Butler, David Walton, Richie Hayes, Eoin McCormack, Michael Morris, Luke Hickey, David Hennessy, Ben Lahart, Keith Ryan, Tomas O’Dowd, Patrick Duggan, Ray Coady.
St Martin’s - Colin McGrath, Niall Moran, Paddy Nolan, Ollie Walsh, Alan Murphy, James Dowling, Ronan Maher, Tom Breen, Damien Maher, John Mulhall, Eoin McGrath, Joe Maher, Paul Maher, John Maher, Robert Shore, David Breen, Shane Cadigan, Shane Coonan, Canice Mahere, Brendan Maher, Bryan Byrne, Pauric Haughney, Aidan Lawlere, Brian Cadigan, Noel Darcy, Kieran Kelly, Luke Maheer, Mick Mulhall, Brian Mulhall, James Maher.
PS - Because of a clash of colours, James Stephens will change strip. Their alternate strip features blue, white, red and green hoops.