Joey Holden is enjoying fine season with Shamrocks
It is an age old rivalry with respect very much to the fore, and the high regard on both sides hasn’t been diluted one iota down through the years.
Welcome to the spiky Ballyhale Shamrocks and James Stephens hurling affair!
The pair clash in the showpiece of Kilkenny hurling, the senior championship final, in UPMC Nowlan Park on Sunday and whatever way the match unfolds, the preamble was politeness personified.
“They were hugely impressive,” - James Stephens manager, Seamus Dwyer on the Shamrocks easier than expected semi-final victory over O’Loughlin Gaels.
“The Village are The Village. James Stephens have a very good record against us,” offered Shamrocks manager, Henry Shefflin, on the opposition in general.
Right now the Shamrocks are top of the pile; Kilkenny and All-Ireland club champions.
James Stephens have put together a new team under manager Seamus Dwyer and selectors Seamus ‘Cheddar’ Plunkett and Joe Murray, and they want to be what the Shamrocks are.
They have burning ambition, but no fear. There is respect, of course!
The pair met in round three of the League on Wednesday, May 22 in Hugginstown. The Village entered the fray on the back of earlier defeats suffered against Bennettsbridge and Mullinavat.
They left Hugginstown smiling following a 1-20 to 1-9 trimming of the champions. The Village haven’t looked back.
They have made huge progress with their finely balanced mix of solid and experienced players allied to a group of fast and skilful younger lads.
The Village play a well rehearsed game suited to their make-up with wing-forward Cian Kenny playing deep and former great attacker, Eoin Larkin, the main man at centre-back and oft times sweeper in a tidy defence.
Shamrocks will know the routine. Others have been in the same position, but they couldn’t cope with the pace, pressure and width ’Stephens bring to the party.
Shamrocks are a marvellous club, having harvested so much from short numbers down the years. Even now we look and admire.
On Sunday, Michael Fennelly wore the No. 25 jersey and played at centre-back in the semi-final. He was withdrawn after 58 minutes.
That effort, plus half a match against Clara the previous week, means he has played 88 minutes of championship hurling.
And he is heading into a county final having made a massive contribution in those ties. Where would you get it, we have to ask?
“The work he puts in on and off the field is huge,” Henry Shefflin replied when asked about a man who is one in a million. “His strength of mind is remarkable. It was brilliant to have him on the starting team.”
Shefflin, with his management team of Tommy Shefflin, Patrick Phelan and Richie O’Neill did extremely well to climb to the summit last season in their first year of management together.
The remarkable TJ Reid continues to be the man who makes most things happen up front for Shamrocks, although there is a constant threat from Colin Fennelly, who looks a little weary these times after a gruelling season.
The defence, anchored by extremely efficient full-back, Joey Holden, has been going well. Goalie Dean Mason hasn’t had a lot to do during the past two hours, which reflects well on the sextet in front of him.
The Mullens, Evan Shefflin and Ronan Corcoran all looked well on Sunday after a tough enough afternoon against Clara. Richie Reid has been flying all season, however.
“O’Loughlin’s are a very good team, but once the Shamrocks took the lead they looked to have rediscovered their best form of last year,” Seamus Dwyer said of the champions semi-final win.
“They capitalised on a mistake made by O’Loughlin’s and that helped them jump back into the match at a time they were chasing their game. They were very clinical up front.
“They are patient and they have a huge amount of finishers. When the opportunities presented themselves they were able to capitalise.”
The two semi-finals were different; ’Stephens versus Erin’s Own (Castlecomer) an attritional sort of tie, while the O’Loughlin’s versus Shamrocks was a more open affair.
“We are playing the All-Ireland champions. It is a challenge we are looking forward to it,” The Village man assured.
“The Shamrocks are good, plain and simple. They have leaders all over the field.
“We are in the final on merit and we are really looking forward to the game,” he insisted.
Shamrocks may be facing championship action for the third week on the trot, but Henry Shefflin said they wouldn’t give up where they are for anything.
“It is a short turn around, but we are delighted to be in the final,” insisted the ten times senior All-Ireland medal winner.
“That is the goal of every club at the start of the season, to make the county final.
“It is great to be there. We know we face formidable opponents. Their record against us is very good.
“That is what county final day is about, the two best teams facing off against each other. Hopefully we will perform and do ourselves justice.
“I think if we work hard and play to our potential we will have a great chance.”
A great chance! Of course they have. James Stephens are far from the outsiders some might like to think, however.
The bookies quote Henry Shefflin’s men at 1/5 to claim county honours, with James Stephens at 10/3.
Shamrocks are being backed to retain the All-Ireland title too, with BoyleSports clipping them into 5/2 from 7/2 within minutes of the final whistle on Sunday after sustained support.
All interesting stuff, but unreal in many respects. It is a long, long, long way from here to an All-Ireland club final.
Such things will be gobbled up by James Stephens this week, used as motivational tools.
Shamrocks, as champions, get and deserve the call to retain the Walsh Cup.
The Village are good and the opposition will have to put the shackles on their most productive young bucks like Conor Browne, Luke Scanlon, Niall Brassil and Cian Kenny if they want to be celebrating on Sunday evening.
Ballyhale Shamrocks - Dean Mason, Darragh Corcoran, Joey Holden, Brian Butler, Darren Mullen, Evan Shefflin, Richie Reid, Ronan Corcoran, Paddy Mullen, Adrian Mullen, TJ Reid, Brian Cody, Eoin Reid, Colin Fennelly, Eoin Cody, James Connolly, Conor Phelan, Gavin Butler, Paddy Hearne, Casey Corcoran, Mark Aylward, Martin Davis, Eoin Kenneally, Michael Fennelly (capt), Joey Cuddihy, Mark Gorman, Kevin Mullen, Jason Devereux, Paddy Doyle, Liam Barron, Enda Kenneally, Ronan Hayes, Kevin Fennelly, John Shortall, Eoin Knox, Christy Cody, Sean Reid, Conor Doyle.
James Stephens - Gavin Costigan, Luke Murphy, Tomás Keogh, Jackie Tyrrell, David Hennessy, Eoin Larkin, Niall Mullins, Shane Donoghue, Conor Browne (capt), Cian Kenny, Niall Brassil, Luke Scanlon, Eoin Guilfoyle, Matthew Ruth, Tadhg O'Dwyer, Sean Manogue, Luke Hickey, Jack McGrath, Jamie Byrne, David Walton, Matthew McWey, David McCormack, Andy Parsons, Ben Lawlor, Ross Whelan, Eamon Fennelly, Ryan Scanlon, Mickey Byrne, William Spenser, Shane Murphy, Jeffery Coyne, Tommy Walton.
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