SUNDAY: All-Ireland Club JHC semi-final Dunnamaggin v Cloughduv, Fraher Field, 2pm
THERE’S just no getting away from the Cork, Kilkenny rivalry and on Sunday we get another instalment of it.
The old Dan Fraher field in Dungarvan should house a top-class game of hurling here between the best junior sides in Munster and Leinster and the likelihood is that very little will separate them at the final whistle.
Cloughduv have had marvellous innings thus far but once you get a taste of success you just want it to go on and on.
Croke Park on All-Ireland club final day is something that most clubs can only dream of and in most cases, it’s a once in a lifetime experience if you get there on the big day.
For both clubs here, that dream is now within touching distance and yet at the same time it’s still very far away.
It’s is a long and difficult journey and for junior clubs, it’s all that much longer because you have to negotiate what is effectively a Grand National course.
Take Cloughduv, they had to come through Mid Cork initially and whilst they were strong favourites to do so, they had to still be on their guard on that particular journey.
They had to face down the best of the rest from the other divisions to win the county title and then it was on to Munster.
In the Cork final, they encountered strong opponents in Russell Rovers but they had more in the tank at the finish to see them home.
Boherlahan-Dualla from Tipperary were first up in the semi-final on their own patch but the Cork champions came home in front, winning on a scoreline of 1-16 to 0-12.
Ballinameela from Waterford provided the opposition in the Munster final before Christmas in Mallow and after a gritty enough encounter, Cloughduv again did the business.
They have had a few weeks away from hard slog of championship fare now and the batteries are re-charged for this formidable task.
Facing any Kilkenny side is an onerous task and, by all accounts, this Dunammagin side is a good one.
They had things pretty much their own way in coming through Leinster, defeating Dublin side St Maur’s, Knockbridge from Louth and Na Fianna from Meath in the final.
Their best-known player would be former Kilkenny great Noel Hickey and he’s still giving great service to the side as an anchorman in their rearguard.
En-route to the final, they have had Tommy Maher, Ronan Coffey, Aidan and John Fitzpatrick in fine form and they are side that has a strong physical presence.
But Cloughduv bring their own set of strong credentials to the table on Sunday and their rich history speaks for itself.
They have had their fair share of disappointment as well and two county junior final losses before they made the big breakthrough would have had an adverse effect on other clubs.
But they have persevered through thick and thin and the current crop of players is very well balanced and well coached.
They are strong defensively with Johnatan Buckley providing plenty of stability in the last line.
Brian Ahern, Dave O’Leary, Mark Walsh, team captain Mark Verling, brother Brian and Joe Ryan are others who have been formidable operators on the journey.
Cork and Kilkenny clubs have been the dominant force in this competition and the likelihood is that whoever comes through here will go the distance.
This is a game that would have done justice to the final itself but one big gun will fall here.
Both clubs will have found out as much as they could about each other without having seen each other play.
Cloughduv are in bonus territory now after achieving their initial objective of winning the Cork title and being elevated to intermediate ranks next season.
They are fortunate too in having plenty of experience on the sideline with Tim Barry Murphy, Tomas Twomey, Derry Keane, Paddy Maher and Sean Holland guiding them.
They proved their mettle by going into Tipperary to face Boherlahan-Dualla and coming out that day with the win.
This will be their most difficult task, however, as it will be for their Kilkenny opponents.
Mayfield were the last winners of this competition a couple of years ago and Cloughduv would love to emulate that achievement.
But there’s no looking beyond this game and they will have prepared quietly over the last few weeks since leaving Mallow with the Munster title.
Brian Verling’s free-taking has been very important in the journey up to now and the return from placed balls at this time of the year will feature prominently in this game.
It’s always difficult to make a call on a game when you haven’t seen the opposition in action.
However, Cloughduv have done most things right so far and they were very good in a lot of their games.
They’ll find it difficult here but there is no reason why they cannot stay on the right path, the path that takes them into Croke Park next month.
We’ll take a chance with them.