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ALL SET TO HALE SHAMROCKS ON PATRICK’S DAY

6 All Ireland titles. That’s the daunting prospect the men from Kilchreest, Castledaly and Peterswell in East Galway face up to this Sunday. A club which has won six All-Ireland titles.

Not all of them were from yesterday mind you. The illustrious history of Ballyhale Shamrocks, actually spans almost the entire duration of the whole All-Ireland club championship.  They lost their first one (despite scoring 5 goals) to Blackrock in 1979 but they’ve more than made up for that since. In the intervening 6 All-Ireland finals, not one has been unsuccessful.

It’s a hell of an achievement for a town that has a population of less than 1000. I guess It helps when you’ve got one of the best hurling families of all time (the Fennelly’s) topped up with the greatest hurler of the last decade (Henry Shefflin) and arguably, the best of the current one (TJ Reid) on your side.

This is a serious Shamrocks team. Ok, it’s maybe not as good as the 2006-10 version when Henry was on the field, Michael Fennelly’s body was in proper order and Cha Fitzpatrick was orchestrating everything from the centre of the field. That was a really exceptional one.

But even in the current set up, you’ve still got the underrated doughtiness of Joey Holden in defence, and the pace and goal-scoring instincts of Colin Fennelly in attack. Not only that, but they have been given a fresh impetus over the last year or so by the youth and exuberance of Evan Shefflin, Adrian Mullen and Eoin Cody, fresh from notching a hugely impressive 1-4 in the semi-final. And at centre half back, well, he may not be the man he used to be (who of us is?) but he’s still Michael Fennelly, one of the most imposing midfielders of the last decade.

Then there’s TJ. When you consider how majestically he can bestride the game on the inter-county scene, it’s almost scary to imagine how much damage he can do in a humble club one.  So there’s more than enough firepower to overcome any side there.

On the other hand, how good are St Thomas’s? Well they’ve got one of the best midfielders and leaders in the game in David Burke, a man mountain of a forward in Conor Cooney, and other players who’ve donned the inter county jersey of the ilk of James Regan and Kenneth Burke. Furthermore Darragh and Eanna Burke have been on fire throughout the Galway men’s campaign. Then of course, they did win this thing 6 years ago and have 2 other county titles to their name since then.

So there’s plenty of pedigree there but there’s doubts that still linger. I mean, why did they have to rely on their sweeper, David Sherry, of all people, to bail them out with a last minute winner in the All-Ireland semi-final against Cushendall? Particularly when they were a princely 7 points to the good at the change of ends? Was it complacency that nearly did for them? Well, there’s no chance of that here.

Now it could be argued that it was near enough three months since they had won their previous game, and there was bound to be a few signs of ring rust in the next, but if so, should that not have manifested itself in the first half rather than the second? I’m sure there have been plenty of challenges games played by the side in the recent weeks, but is one competitive game in 4 months enough? Particularly when facing a side as battle hardened as their opponents.

This wasn’t a Ballyhale side that waltzed through their local championship, but once they got out of the choppy waters of Kilkenny, it’s been undoubtedly smoother sailing. Both Naomh Eanna and Ballyboden were easily dismissed and while Ballygunner was a much trickier hurdle, once Evan Cody goaled in the second half, the result was never really in doubt.

So this is a side that has overcome quite a lot in the past few months. And sure, there may be only 6 or 7 starters from their last All-Ireland triumph in 2015, but there’s more than enough top level experience (Holden, Reid, the 2 Fennelly’s) to, you’d presume, ensure stage fright is not an issue. What’s more, whatever history there is, is firmly on the Kilkenny men’s side. Yes, Portumna may have toppled them in a semi final in 2009, but that was really the exception to the rule. When these guys get a scent of an All-Ireland victory, they usually pounce on it.

So this St Thomas’ side is a fine one, and deserving of a place in the All-Ireland. On another day, against another side, there’s a chance they could win this. Against a side with 6 All-Ireland final victories in a row though? Well, you could argue Ballyhale are due a defeat. You could even more convincingly argue, that experience is why they’ll probably win.

PREDICTION: BALLYHALE by 4

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