Hurling and camogie

St Thomas' look to stop Ballyhale in their tracks

STANDFIRST

Colin Fennelly celebrates scoring for Ballyhale in the 2019 final against St Thomas' Picture by Séamus Loughran
Pádraig Ó Meiscill

All-Ireland Club Senior Hurling Championship semi-final: Ballyhale Shamrocks (Kilkenny) v St Thomas' (Galway) (tomorrow, Thurles, 3.30pm, live on TG4)

WHEN these two clubs met at the All-Ireland final stage in 2019, Henry Shefflin was walking the line for Ballyhale.

The game was never really in doubt that day, as Colin Fennelly produced a man of the match performance to inspire the Kilkenny club to a 17-point victory and a seventh All-Ireland senior club triumph.

A lot has changed since then of course – Shefflin has moved out west, Fennelly has retired from inter-county hurling, the hurling world has been forced to adapt to sometimes empty stadia – but Ballyhale are still All-Ireland champions. They won a record eighth title in beating Borris-Ileigh of Tipperary in 2020 and have held on to the Tommy Moore Cup since due to the competition's cancellation last year.

St Thomas' stormed their way through the Galway championship at the tail end of last year, topping their group with three wins from three before racking up big wins over Kilconieron and Gort at the quarter and semi-final stages. The final against Clarinbridge was a closer affair but, steered in the right direction by the scoring prowess of captain Conor Cooney, Thomas' turned on the style in the second-half to emerge worthy winners for the fourth year in-a-row.

Ballyhale likewise sauntered their way through their county championship, TJ Reid performing to his usual ridiculous standards, and looked to be doing the same in Leinster until they came up against St Rynagh's at the last-four stage. The Offaly men were on the cusp of dethroning the reigning All-Ireland champions that afternoon in December until a late Eoin Cody goal forced extra-time. Ballyhale came into their own then, running out nine-point winners in the end.

The provincial final against Clough-Ballacolla of Laois was a massacre, Fennelly (twice), Eoin Cody, Brian Cody, Adrian Mullen and Eoin Reid all hitting the back of the net in a 6-23 to 0-14 romp for the Shamrocks.

There will be no massacre tomorrow if St Thomas' play to the level they have demonstrated so far this championship year, although the recent knee injury suffered by influential half-back Shane Cooney is a significant blow for the Connacht standard bearers.

However, skipper Cooney has been in prolific form, registering 0-11 in the Galway decider alone, and will be expected to lead by example yet again in Semple Stadium. David Burke remains a crafty operator at midfield, while thirty-year-old James Regan looked like a new addition at times in the county championship. Darragh Burke and Oisín Flannery should also give Ballyhale plenty to think about in Thurles.

TJ Reid played through the pain barrier for Shamrocks in their provincial campaign after tearing his groin and an abdominal muscle in the Kilkenny final against O'Loughlin Gaels. To compound his woe he was withdrawn early in the Leinster final when he jarred his knee, but St Thomas' won't be any less wary of his presence tomorrow.

In Reid, Adrian Mullen, Colin Fennelly and Eoin Cody the Shamrocks have probably the best forward line in the country and they should do enough to see the Kilkenny men through to another All-Ireland final.

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Hurling and camogie