The biggest occasion in hurling will have nationwide attention directed to Croke Park on Saturday. The Tipp. focus will switch to the Stadium on Sunday as Cork or Clare rejoice or lament the outcome of their All-Ireland replay.
No better club programme can be envisaged than the two semi-finals as four teams come to our HQ with sharpened ambition to reach the October 13th decider. The North is assured of representation while Mid hopes are confined to Lougmore Castleiney as they take on Borrisoleigh. Nenagh v Kildangan is a repeat of a drawn group encounter. The North champions are alone in that Divisional distinction as the others fell short in their local competitions.
The trip to Dolla proved luckless for Clonoulty-Rossmore. They lost a toss between the North premises and Holycross as venue and lost more than that on a gloriously sunny day. Hopes of an improved display compared to the Ragg game were not fulfilled against a Kildangan whose competent and alert hurling ought to have got them home by a fair deal more than the eventual figures on the board. Credit must be accorded to the West side for turning a facile certainly for Kildangan onto belated doubt - for just a few minutes the odds looked promising as the margin had shrunk from eight to two in the last quarter and the wind was behind their effort to snatch an unlikely victory. Ultimately, their win over Toomevara yielded no further dividend - “Toome” beat Nenagh in the North, so Clonoulty’s CV held out optimistic omens of rebounding from the West surprise.
Being the “away” team might have given Clonoulty good reason to start well and keep it tight against the former All-Ireland Intermediate winners and more recent North champions. No such necessary reaction was forthcoming. The first half was a Kildangan innings in which they built a lead of nine points, surely a cushion plump enough to absorb what Clonoulty might throw at them. The worst blow suffered and heaviest punch landed was seemingly sun assisted Tommy Connors strike from midfield - ‘keeper O’Dwyer unable to arrest its flight. Not going to be Clonoulty’s day when that sort of ill fortune hits them. The adverse impression was strengthened by a quota of wides off Hammersley’s frees while Rory Gleeson was on the mark off play and frees for the opposition. Worse still when Daragh Egan did a Nash job on a close free. The saving by the capable goalie of an O’Neill penalty further endorsed the trend.
Plainly, Clonoulty required more than points when play resumed, Kildangan, in confident mood, were hardly about to fall back on defence. The third quarter gave no indications of a close finish as the gap hadn’t been reduced by more than from ten to eight. A well taken Sean Maher goal showed that Egan and his defenders were not unbeatable. Fiachra O’Keeffe and Timmy Hammersley had it down to three with the issue suddenly called in question, but the rally was checked by a Joe Gallagher run through ample space to beat the last defender and crash in their third goal. Had control been regained? An in-square ruck yielded a scrambled goal by O’Keeffe to renew the possibilities for the pursuers at two down. A lovely piece of ball control and accuracy by Rory Gleeson extended it to a terminal three. Relief for Kildangan after their late problems - no compensation for Clonoulty in a year of double disappointment. The winners may lack the prestige of once dominant “Toome” but go to their play with zest and have a uniform standard in all lines, as well as a goalie who can be hard to pass. The sequence of outings could be a plus for them in facing in-form Nenagh who have prospered outside the North and now find themselves renewing local acquaintance. Eire Og might well have preferred Borrisoleigh or Loughmore at this stage. Still, one feels that Nenagh have superior class in ball play and combination, unless these are to be disrupted by close marking and grit. Eire Og’s last final was against “Toome” in ‘06. They haven’t won since Michael Cleary and company beat Boherlahan in ‘95. Kildangan’s sole appearance was way back in 1934 when Moycarkey-Borris completed three titles in a row. A lot to play for in seeking a spot on the clár in October.
Equally so in the first game, it can’t be called a curtain raiser, such is the parity of status on the double header. “Borris” and Loughmore are separated by the buffer zone of Drom-Inch but near enough to each other to promote keen rivalry. There’s also a relationship expressed in county finals of the 80’s which produced success for “Borris” in ‘83 in Cashel with Noel O’Dwyer given individual kudos. It was the first final for Loughmore in the stick code. They lost again to Cappawhite in ‘87 but scaled the heights in ‘88 against Sunday’s opponents in a replay by 2-7 to 1-8. The verdict rested on a four man exchange of passing which led to Pat McGrath’s lodgment in Noelie Maher’s net at the Killinan posts. Loughmore are of course the most recent champions of this year’s surviving quartet, having triumphed in ‘07 over Drom-Inch and gone on to win out in Munster.
That standard hasn’t been reproduced in the mean time, including the current campaign with its Mid Final loss heavily to Drom-Inch. They now have the opportunity to atone on the wider scene with such as their Mid masters and Sarsfields eliminated. “Borris”, absent from the semi-finals for decades, will not loom quite as formidable as those now departed, but are likely to pose a bigger problem than luckless, fourteen man Killenaule.
Being the first side in the maroon colours to appear at this stage is bound to inject sharpness into a side that has tended to under achieve over the years. Keith Ryan and Kieran Maher have been doing well as younger recruits to their attack, while Brendan Maher stands out in any company at midfield and Philip’s experience is a defensive factor. They had to pull themselves together to get through against Carrick Swans but dealt better with Anacarty. Loughmore’s competitiveness and ambition may swing things their way in a hard to call contest.
Galway’s last gasp leveller a year ago could not avert a Kilkenny title at the second meeting. Will Clare’s comparable draw with Cork follow a similar pattern against another of the title rich counties? Media opinion seems to be swinging in that direction. There’s no argument about the Banner’s general superiority the last day, when Cork’s three goals negatived a large part of Clare’s pointing prowess. Davy Fitzgerald may well opt this time for extra deployment in defence to afford less room for Cork breaks. Anthony Nash may go for more of the shorter ball to a defender if Clare do not mark potential receivers. A change of forward choice could see O’Donnell on for Honan for faster release of possession in attack. Cork do not appear to be of Kilkenny calibre as exploiters of a second chance. The crusading Banner seem capable of reproducing form, with a better bottom line. Whoever prevails, a Saturday title will be historic.