Sport

Kilmacud and Ballygunner look set to extend respective golden eras

All-Ireland SFC Club champions Kilmacud Croke's saw off Ardee, St Mary's in their semi-final.
All-Ireland SFC Club champions Kilmacud Croke's saw off Ardee, St Mary's in their semi-final. All-Ireland SFC Club champions Kilmacud Croke's saw off Ardee, St Mary's in their semi-final.

When Ballygunner beat Na Piarsaigh to qualify for Sunday's AIB Munster club SHC final, they reached a neat half century milestone.

That was the Gunners' 50th championship game since the start of the 2018 Waterford campaign - the beginning of their golden era.

Ballygunner were already four-in-a-row Waterford winners admittedly but it wasn't until 2018 that they finally regained the provincial title, ending a 17-year wait, and catapulting them to a new level of dominance.

They've won it twice more since, in 2021 and 2022, added the AIB All-Ireland title in early 2022 and are just 60 minutes away now from another Munster triumph.

If they can complete a provincial three-in-a-row they will become the first Munster hurling club team to achieve that feat.

Darragh O'Sullivan's side breezed through Waterford again - their lowest winning margin in that campaign was eight points - before demolishing Cork representatives Sarsfields 2-20 to 0-9 in their Munster opener.

Their toughest game since losing last December's All-Ireland semi-final to Ballyhale Shamrocks arrived against Na Piarsaigh of Limerick.

Leading by eight points with as many minutes of regular time remaining, Ballygunner suddenly found themselves under siege late on before advancing with a 0-16 to 1-9 win.

Clonlara, whose one-point semi-final win over Kiladangan was their first ever in the competition, will attempt to contain a side led as ever by the Mahonys, Stephen O'Keeffe and Dessie Hutchinson.

The Banner representatives will look to John Conlon again for inspiration. Two days after winning his second All-Star award, Conlon was Man of the Match in Clonlara's win over Kiladangan.

In a curious coincidence, the Kilmacud Crokes footballers bidding for AIB Leinster club success this weekend, have a remarkably similar record to Ballygunner.

The All-Ireland holders can also trace the start of their golden era back to 2018, when they won a first Dublin title in eight years.

Since then, they have played 49 championship games in all competitions, just one less than Ballygunner, and only lost four times.

They will also become the first team in their province to do the three-in-a-row if they can overcome Naas on Saturday at Croke Park.

Inter-county stars Paul Mannion and Shane Walsh lead the attack for Crokes and the pair combined for 0-10 in their semi-final defeat of St Mary's, Ardee.

But it's their defence which is arguably their most lethal weapon. Dan O'Brien, Cian O'Connor and Andrew McGowan have all excelled this term.

Kilmacud Crokes captain Shane Cunningham said: "If you look at the last few years, the way we have defended has probably won us a lot of games. A lot of our games have been relatively low-scoring, that's all credit to our defenders. I've marked them in training, I know how good they are. Our defensive system is very good."

There will be the opportunity for a Dublin club double at Croke Park on Saturday though first-time county hurling winners Na Fianna will have it all to do against 2003 and 2010 provincial winners O'Loughlin Gaels.

A win for Na Fianna would secure an AIB All-Ireland club semi-final clash with Cushendall (Antrim) or Slaughtneil (Derry) who will meet in the Ulster hurling final on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Sunday's AIB Connacht club football final between Corofin and St Brigid's, who have 14 titles between them, has the potential to be a classic. St Brigid's took care of the Sligo and Leitrim champions to reach the final while Corofin, Connacht's most successful ever club, thrilled again in their semi-final win over Ballina.

FIXTURES:

SATURDAY

AIB Leinster club SFC final

Kilmacud Crokes (Dublin) v Naas (Kildare), Croke Park, 2.15pm

AIB Leinster club SHC final

O'Loughlin Gaels (Kilkenny) v Na Fianna (Dublin), Croke Park, 4.05pm

SUNDAY

Munster club SHC final

Ballygunner (Waterford) v Clonlara (Clare), Thurles, 3.30pm

Ulster club SHC final

Slaughtneil (Derry) v Cushendall (Antrim), Pairc Esler, 2pm

Connacht club SFC final

St Brigid's (Roscommon) v Corofin (Galway), Dr Hyde Park, 1.30pm