Weekend GAA previews: Ballyea have the edge in clash of traditions

Munster hurling final and Leinster semi-final action tops bill in Club Championships:

AIB CLUB SHC

[Matches at 2.0 unless stated]

Munster final

Ballyea (Clare) v Glen Rovers (Cork)

Semple Stadium

This promises to be a fascinating clash between two very different sides.

Glen Rovers have broken through to reach this level for the first time in 40 years but represent a tradition going back to when Christy Ring captained them to the very first Munster club title 52 years ago and which also encompasses All-Irelands.

Like many a distressed gentry, the modern age hasn’t been good to them and it’s only in the past couple of years that they’ve appeared again at provincial level.

Their best known player, Patrick Horgan, summed up a very traditional Cork point of view when speaking earlier this week about video analysis.

“I suppose when you go to a higher level you probably need one or two of those kind of things, positives or negatives of your game.

“I think with the club it’s just really relaxed and you go out and play hurling the way you always were taught, not ‘oh you have to be standing here now for this’ or you have to do something else like a robot, it’s just go out and play whatever we want and if that’s good enough it’s good enough, if it’s not, it’s not, you can’t do anything about it.”

Ballyea come from a different perspective. First-time county champions, they had the focus and ambition to park their celebrations in time for the Munster semi-final against All-Ireland favourites Thurles Sarsfields.

The abundance of inter-county experience at various levels, spanning football and hurling, gives the team an understanding of what is required to achieve as a collective and the calmness with which they dismantled the Tipperary champions’ big lead before going on to win in extra-time demonstrated as much.

Inevitably the team revolves around the outsize talent of Tony Kelly and the failure of Thurles to make adequate contingency plans for him proved costly.

For all Kelly's excellence, there's more to Ballyea – the physical threat of Gary Brennan, whose hurling like that of the other footballers is improving as the season unfolds and the sharpness of former Clare underage hurler Niall Deasy as well as a strong collective pattern of moving the ball effectively.

It’s unlikely that the Glen will be as cavalier as Thurles in defence but they were opened up on a few occasions by Patrickswell in the semi-final in a manner that will cost them goals if they don’t tighten up at the back.

They have experience – former Cork hurler Graham Callanan is still going strong – and the harshly administered lessons of underachieving in their own minds on last year's return to Munster.

Overall though the Clare champions have the edge.

Leinster semi-finals

Oulart-The Ballagh (Wexford) v O’Loughlin Gaels (Kilkenny)

Innovate Wexford Park

The past 12 months has had a transformative effect on Oulart. The long-coveted Leinster title and a terrific All-Ireland semi-final display against eventual champions Na Piarsaigh have lifted the Wexford side at a point when it appeared that their best days were behind them.

They have home advantage against the Kilkenny champions, who are coming at them with the urgency of a side that knows it won’t have forever to recover the All-Ireland that looked theirs at half-time all of six seasons ago.

En route to that final they gave Oulart one of their many traumatic afternoons in a Leinster final so there is history between the clubs.

OLG bring a barrel of experience to the task but also decent form after a well-deserved county final win over formidable Ballyhale Shamrocks.

Oulart gave St Rynagh's a stiff beating in a display that was impressive in an unfussy way. Both sides were short of full strength and Oulart defender Paul Roche picked up a red card that keeps him out of this clash.

This promises to be tight but the champions’ new found sense of purpose can combine with home advantage to steer them to the final.

St Mullins (Carlow) v Cuala (Dublin)

Netwatch Dr Cullen Park

Before the quarter-finals the grapevine trembled with warnings for Cuala on the prospect of meeting Westmeath’s Raharney in this semi-final. Not for the first time in recent years that word to the wise was discredited by the Carlow champions.

St Mullins have dominated the county since Mount Leinster Rangers made history three seasons ago by reaching the All-Ireland final but they have yet to register the same impact in Leinster.

Cuala did what they had to, to retain the Dublin title and were too hot for the new Laois champions Borris-Kilcotton in match dominated by former Dublin minor football captain and senior All-Ireland medallist Con O’Callaghan, who hit 4-3.

Cuala are still smarting from their under-performance at this venue in last year’s Leinster final and won’t be in the mood to slip up here.

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times

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