Graveyard shift hardly does justice to prestige of club hurling semi-final

Inside Track with John McIntyre

IT’S time to put my cards on the table. I hate night-time (floodlit) hurling. And the prospect of heading off to Portlaoise on Saturday evening for the All-Ireland Club hurling semi-final between St Thomas’ and Waterford’s Ballygunner is far from enticing. Getting home around midnight just over a week out from Christmas is simply not fair on rival supporters either.

Given the small dimensions of the ball and the amount of aerial combat, hurling was never suitable for playing under lights, but a ‘bursting at the seams’ fixtures list and the demands of TV means serious compromises have to be made. In an ideal world, this attractive semi-final would be played at 2pm on a Sunday given the time of year.

For all that, Saturday’s big battle had the potential to serve up a cracker despite Ballygunner being installed as prohibitive favourites (1/7). Frankly, those odds are an insult to the qualities of St Thomas’, but after capturing a tenth consecutive county title, thrashing both Sarsfields of Cork and Clonlara of Clara in the subsequent Munster campaign, you can see why the experienced Waterford champions are rated so highly.

When you also factor in that Ballygunner went up to the Gaelic Grounds and defeated a formidable Na Piarsaigh outfit (0-16 to 1-9) in the provincial semi-final, it’s easy to join the chorus hailing their greatness. After-all, they are three-in-a-row Munster champions and previously captured the All-Ireland club title for the first time in February of last year. Late matchwinner Harry Ruddle has gone into Waterford hurling folklore.

When you throw in the depth of quality in the Ballygunner team – players like Stephen O’Keeffe, Barry Coughlan, the Mahony brothers, Peter Hogan, Patrick Fitzgerlad, Ian Kenny and Dessie Hutchinson – it underlines the scale of the task facing the Galway champions at O’Moore Park, but it’s far from a hopeless one.

In completing a magnificent six-in-a-row at Pearse Stadium in late October, St Thomas’ copper-fastened their iron-grip on the Tom Callanan Cup. When you consider that great teams like Portumna, Sarsfields and Athenry never even got close to that achievement, it puts into perspective what Kenneth Burke’s team have done. Year after year, they keep all local challengers at bay while their consistency is remarkable.

Pictured: St Thomas’ Shane Cooney breaking away from Matthew Tarpey of Turloughmore in the county final. The Galway champions face Ballygunner in the All-Ireland Club semi-final on Saturday.

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