Red hot favourites or not, Shamrocks have to be very careful

John Knox

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John Knox

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sport@kilkennypeople.ie

Red hot favourites or not, Shamrocks have to be very careful

Colin Fennelly makes a lot of things happen in Shamrocks attack

Talk about a clash between the ‘haves and have-nots’, well, this is it!
On one side we have the pride of Kilkenny, Shamrock of Ballyhale, who will be chasing their tenth title.
On the other side stand the pride of Carlow, St Mullins, who will be appearing in their first final.
On the face of it, this will be a true David versus Goliath affair in the AIB Leinster club senior hurling championship final in O’Moore Park, Portlaoise on Sunday.
Shamrocks are well walked in this area. They have featured in a dozen provincial finals in all, losing just two; 1988 to Buffers Alley (Wexford) and in 1991 against Birr (Offaly).
On top of all of that they head the All-Ireland championship roll of honour with seven successes, losing just one final here in 1979 against Blackrock (Cork).
And yet it all counts for nothing right now. The Leinster club hurling final 2019 is all about one 60 minute match on Sunday.
Shamrocks manager, Henry Shefflin, broke it down to basics. St Mullins and his side are the two best teams in the province right now.
And Sunday’s clash will decide the top order, 1 and 2.
“St Mullins are there on merit,” insisted the 10 times All-Ireland medal winner, who went on to eulogise their efforts when downing former All-Ireland champions, Cuala (Dublin) and Rathdowney Errill (Laois) in earlier rounds.
“The two best teams in Leinster right now are preparing for the final. That is the simple story about the game.
“How many teams started out in the various county championships? Now Leinster is down to two, Shamrocks and St Mullins.
“The two best teams are involved. That is the way we view it. St Mullins will focus on themselves and their game.
“Shamrocks will do the same, while at the same time both will keep an eye on the other side to try and identify where they might be able to go best against them.”
Planning business as usual!
Shamrocks may be the overwhelming favourites, but they understand and appreciate the risks, and especially so as they will be without score getting wing-back, Richie Reid, who is on overseas duty with the Irish Army, plus injured duo Paddy Mullen and Brian Butler.
Leg injurY
As well, Adrian Mullen, is nursing a leg injury, but he should be ready to go after putting in a decent 18 minute stint with the under-21 team at the weekend.
“We have a lot of work and planning going on,” Shefflin said. “It is a test of our panel now. We are pushing the panel to see who will step up, who will take jerseys. There is pushing among the sub too to see who might come on.”
Life is busy in the fast lane for Shamrocks, with the under-21 squad chasing the three in-a-row in the county. That team was in action at the weekend, and they scored a very good win over James Stephens to make the semi-finals.
“There is loads going on,” the manager insisted, adding that the good run by the under-21 side was more of a help than anything. Competition at that level was good for those who haven’t been getting game time, but there was a concern for the players who have been getting loads of game time.
“Look, in the overall scheme of things, it is not bad,” Henry insisted, admitting having two teams going well can impact on training.
“We had that issue last year,” he reminded, and everyone knows how that worked out. “To be fair to the players, and especially as they won a great game on Saturday, it boosts confidence. They got a good, hard game. It allowed some lads to put their hands up to get a jersey for the senior team.
“Overall I think the involvement is good. They are young. They love playing, and when they are winning it leaves them wanting more and more. Some of them have been champing at the bit.”
So, what about St Mullins?
“To win a county championship in any county is a very difficult feat,” the former great said when he took up the story.
“Once you get beyond that, you let go a little bit and perform.
“St Mullins have done that. For anyone who watched the last game, and we were at it, the quality of the hurling against Rathdowney was top class. It was one of the best games I have seen this year in the club championships.
“The hurling from both teams was of the highest quality, and some of the scores were immense. Somewhat similar to ourselves when we won the county final last year and then grew into this competition as it went on, that is exactly what I see in St Mullins now.
“They did very well to beat Mount Leinster Rangers in the county final. From there on to beat Cuala and then back it up with a win over Rathdowney was impressive.
“The performances of James Doyle, Marty Kavanagh, Seamus Murphy and so on have been immense. To win matches like the ones they did when things looked to be going against them at times was top notch.”
Special times
Shefflin said being involved with Shamrocks at this level “were special times, absolutely special times”.
He thought it must be the same for St Mullins.
“We experienced the joy last year,” he continued. “We saw the pictures after the Rathdowney/St Mullins match. You could see and feel the joy. That is what it is about.
“We saw the same with Borris-Ileigh in Munster on Sunday. Every Sunday the club championships brings something different. We are very fortunate to be involved in it, and to be part of it.”
Shamrocks looked immense when breezing through the disappointing challenge of St Martin’s (Wexford) in the last round.
All their star men performed, TJ Reid, Colin and Michael Fennelly, Joey Holden, Darren Mullen and, of course, Richie Reid.
Coping with the pressures of their first final could hamper St Mullins, but that is unlikely. They have nothing to lose by simply letting rip, and they will!

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