The All-Ireland Club Championship finals will take place this St. Patrick’s Day and once again it looks as if there’s going to be an exciting conclusion to the Senior Hurling Championship at Croke Park. Leinster Champions Ballyhale Shamrocks take on Kilmallock of Limerick at 2pm.
Although Ballyhale are huge favourites to win their sixth All-Ireland title, Kilmallock may have a surprise in store in their first All-Ireland final appearance since 1993. The result would be a savage one for Limerick hurling, but can Ger O’Loughlin’s side defeat Ballyhale and claim their first ever All-Ireland Senior Hurling title?
Ballyhale Shamrocks (Kilkenny) v Kilmallock (Limerick)
Leinster champions Ballyhale enjoyed a fine win over Galway side Gort back in February and were always in control of the semi-final tie, winning by five points in the end. The Kilkenny side were sharp in attack that day, with 11-time All-Star Henry Shefflin impressive at centre forward, scoring 5 points from play.
Current All-Star TJ Reid has also been in impressive form for Ballyhale and his 10-point haul in the Leinster final helped Ballyhale win their 8th Leinster senior hurling title after extra-time against Kilcormac Killoughey.
The spine of this Ballyhale side is made up of players who lined out for Kilkenny in their All-Ireland win over Tipperary last September, and with Colin Fennelly and Eoin Reid in the forwards, as well as Michael Fennelly and Joey Holden at the back, Kilmallock will really need to be at their best to bring the Tommy Moore Cup back to Munster for the first time since Newtownshandrum’s win in 2004.
Kilmallock may not have as much experience at this level as their Kilkenny counterparts, but several players on this Kilmallock side were on the receiving end of Limerick’s heart-breaking loss to Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final last August.
Treaty regulars Paudie O’Brien, Gavin O’Mahony and Graeme Mulcahy all starred for the Munster side in their win over Portaferry in the semi-final and will be desperate to get revenge on the Kilkenny side and secure an historic win for the Limerick side. All three are very important players for Kilmallock and though they haven’t won as many All-Ireland medals as some of their opposite numbers, after coming so close to beating Kilkenny last year, the trio will know that they are good enough to beat their opposition.
Kilmallock too have a lot of quality in their forward line and in Jake Mulcahy and Eoin Ryan as well as 2007 All-Star winner Andrew O’Shaughnessy, they are capable of getting scores.
The Limerick champions have produced a some big performances this season, digging deep to defeat Clare champions Cratloe by 1-32 to 3-18 after extra-time in the Munster final back in in November and for that reason, Henry Shefflin and co. will have to work very hard if they are to secure their sixth All-Ireland title.
Kilmallock are still a young side and their defence will be tested to the limit by the Ballyhale forwards.
Prediction: Ballyhale may ultimately have just too much strength and experience for the Limerick side, but expect this youthful Kilmallock team to push the Leinster Champions all the way in an exciting game.