It’s 10 weeks since Ballyhale Shamrocks stormed past Ballyboden St. Enda’s in their Leinster final meeting. For Waterford champions Ballygunner, they haven’t experienced competitive action in 12 weeks since their victory over Na Piarsaigh on the 18th of November.
Now into the All-Ireland series over two months later, whichever side has better kept the cobwebs from spreading in the interim and can quicker reestablish their 2018 form will have the best chance of reaching the St. Patrick’s Day finale.
The Kilkenny side are record winners of the coveted Tommy Moore Cup, winning it six times in their prestigous history. They haven’t reached the final since the 2014/15 however, when they defeated Kilmallock to claim their sixth crown.
Although they’ve dominated the Suirside landscape for many a year now, Ballygunner have never competed in the final stage. The closest they came was in 2001/02, having won the Munster title, but lost to Galway’s Clarinbridge at this same stage. Adding an All-Ireland title to their five-in-a-row in Waterford would rank this current crop as one of the finest club sides in the game.
Standing in their way is, as with many Kilkenny sides over the years, the establishment, the experience and the guys who’ve been there and done that. It’s not this group of players’ first trip into this stage of the competition, nor is it their manager’s. Henry Shefflin has done a fine job guiding his club through the competitive rigors of the Kilkenny club scene and on the cusp of yet another trip to Croke Park.
Defeating Na Piarsaigh in the Munster final was a benchmark win for the Déise side. Overcoming the reigning champions and recent All-Ireland poster boys shows Ballygunner are very much capable of competing with the elite clubs, but Ballyhale pose an altogether different threat.
Whoever comes out of this one will be the favourite on Paddy’s Day, whether that team is a final debutante or a six-time champion.
Elsewhere, St. Thomas’ of Galway meet Antrim powerhouse Cushendall in Parnell Park. The Ulster side will be aiming to repeat their 2016 campaign, where they defeated Galway’s Sarsfields in the sem-finals.
This will be a sterner test for the Ruairi Ógs, with the likes of Conor Cooney and David Burke imposing inter-county figures that will have every intent of adding club honours to their 2017 success with Galway.
St Thomas have slayed Sarsfields and Liam Mellows on the way to Galway victory, as they look to add their second All-Ireland title after winning their first in 2013.
The Antrim side boast two of the last four county championships, bolstered by county star Neil McManus, and in each of those years went all the way in the provincial campaign. Antrim may operate below the elite of the major hurling counties, but their clubs are fiercely strong and Cushendall overcoming high quality clubs like Loughgiel Shamrocks and Dunloy, as well as the provincial demands posed by the likes of Slaughtneil, means they are every bit as battle tested as the Tribesmen.
If St Thomas want to experience another day out in Croke Park, they’ll have to earn it.
Saturday 9th February
All-Ireland Club SHC Semi-Finals
St Thomas (Galway) v Cushendall (Antrim), Parnell Park, 3pm (TG4)
Ballygunner (Waterford) v Ballyhale Shamrocks (Kilkenny), Semple Stadium, 5pm (TG4)
All-Ireland Club IFC Final
Kilcummin (Kerry) v Naomh Eanna (Antrim), Croke Park, 4.45pm (TG4 online)
All-Ireland Club JFC Final
Beaufort (Kerry) v Easkey (Sligo), Croke Park, 3pm (TG4 online)
Sunday 10th February
All-Ireland Club IHC Final
Charleville (Cork) v Oranmore-Maree (Galway), Croke Park, 3.15pm (TG4 online)
All-Ireland Club JHC Final
Castleblayney (Monaghan) v Dunnamaggin (Kilkenny), Croke Park, 1.30pm (TG4 online)
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