St Finbarr's v Ballyea: John Horgan's Munster hurling semi-final preview

Barrs head to Ennis as massive underdogs against Tony Kelly's experienced side but with belief in their own ability after ending a 29-year wait for a county
St Finbarr's v Ballyea: John Horgan's Munster hurling semi-final preview

Damien Cahalane of St Finbarr's. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

OF THE four clubs remaining in the Munster Club SHC, it would be fair to say that the Barrs are the least experienced where that competition is concerned.

Ballygunner, Na Piarsaigh and Ballyea have all been in the winner’s enclosure in recent years and the new Cork champions would probably be regarded as outsiders of the quartet that will be in action in the semi-finals next Sunday.

Club championship games at this time of the year tend not to generate big attendances with the bulk of those present belonging to the participants.

However, the two games, the Barrs against Ballyea and Ballygunner opposing Na Piarsaigh, are loaded with potential and the TV viewing figures for both should be substantial.

The Barrs have an early start in Cusack Park against the Clare champions, Ballyea and will probably carry the underdog tag in that encounter.

But hurling in the month of November can be a great leveller, the same applies to the big ball game.

One has only to check out the results from the Leinster club IHC last weekend when Kilkenny’s best in that competition, Danesfort were stunned by rank outsiders, Trim from Meath. Danesfort, with Richie Hogan and Paul Murphy on board, were 1/20 for that game but lost out by a point.

That’s just a small illustration of what can transpire at this juncture in the year.

The Barrs have had a decent break since their wonderful triumph in Cork, a time to celebrate and a time to reset thereafter for the provincial campaign.

It might be a long time ago since they were last on the winner’s rostrum in this competition but there’s a fine club tradition in it, being successful four times and that can be an inspiration and motivation for the brand new present generation.

They won a great Cork title, exhibiting tremendous character and resilience in doing so, some of their very young players growing up very quickly in that very competitive environment.

Damien Cahalane of St Finbarr's. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Damien Cahalane of St Finbarr's. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

It’s sometimes the case that when a club wins a county for the first time after being without for so long that they are quite satisfied with their lot and do not really prioritise anything else.

That certainly won’t be the case with the Barrs, they’ll travel up to the Banner county full of confidence, fully believing that they can carry the process much further.

Yes, they’ll be coming up against a side containing one of the country’s best hurlers in Tony Kelly, a player who has very often made the big difference for club and county where winning is concerned.

Other players like Paul Flanagan, Jack Browne, Pearse Lillis, Gary Brennan and Niall Deasy are seasoned campaigners and playing on a ground that they are so familiar with has to be a slight advantage.

DEEP

But in every game on the Cork journey the Barrs dug deep, none more so than in the group encounter with the Rockies when they triumphed by nine points before reinventing themselves to manufacture a simply superb victory that became a big factor in their success thereafter.

Many feared that the hugely difficult condition in the final against the same Rockies team might militate against their younger players but that was far from being the case, in fact the opposite happened as they swept to a mighty win.

The young players on this Barrs team, Ethan Twomey, Ben O’Connor, Jack Cahalane, Willie Buckley and Ben Cunningham really grew up in winning the Cork title and the experience of that voyage can be called upon again in what is sure to be another searching examination of their credentials.

Curbing the threat of Kelly will be a priority but there is a fine balance throughout this Barrs team and they are now more than ready and capable of reaching the final.

It won’t be easy but nothing is for any team hurling in the latter half of November.

Twenty miles down the road in Limerick, the collision of All-Ireland champions Ballygunner and Na Piarsaigh is the game that has really caught the imagination this week, two of the country’s best club sides, both containing some outstanding hurlers.

Many are suggesting that this is the final in all but name but when the time comes the Barrs or Ballyea will have something to say about that.

Ballygunner have the benefit of a recent victory over the Tipperary champions Kilruane McDonaghs and they were very impressive that day in Walsh Park.

But the Tipp champions had been out a week previous in winning their county title after a lapse of 37 years and it was always going to be a huge ask to progress the process any further.

The ‘Gunners and Na Piarsaigh contain marquee players all over the field, defensively and offensively.

Pauric Mahony, Dessie Hutchison, Kevin Mahony and youngster Patrick Fitzgerald put up big scores that day while at the back, Stephen O’Keeffe remains one of the country’s best keepers fronted by the likes of Barry Coughlan and Philip Mahony.

Na Piarsaigh ended Kilmallock’s reign in Limerick and were hugely impressive in doing so, winning by 11 points.

Adrian Breen, Peter Casey, Kevin Downes, David Dempsey and Conor Boylan will punish any defence if given the slightest chance while Mike Casey and Ronan Lynch defend resolutely and you have William O’Donoghue in midfield.

This has the potential to be the game of the year at any level, outside of Ballyhale-Shamrocks, the two best club sides in the country going head to head.

Munster hurling, already on the highest pedestal can be further enhanced by these two games next Sunday and a marker can be laid down for the rest of the club campaign.

And it will be a huge surprise if both encounters are not still in the melting pot coming down the home stretch.

Both games should not be missed.

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