Ballygunner players celebrate their Munster final win. Ken Sutton/INPHO
Croker Calling

'They've made the right call' - Ballygunner boss on pre-Christmas choice of Croke Park

The Waterford champions take on Ballyhale Shamrocks on Sunday 18 December.

BALLYGUNNER MANAGER DARRAGH O’Sullivan feels the GAA have made the right call in choosing Croke Park as the venue for the All-Ireland club hurling semi-finals.

Fresh from their Munster final win last Saturday, Ballygunner will renew acquaintances with Kilkenny’s Ballyhale Shamrocks on Sunday 18 December, a game that will form part of a double-header with the meeting of Galway’s St Thomas’ and Antrim’s Dunloy.

The fixtures were announced yesterday, sparking some debate over the choice of venue, the fact that it is being held a week before Christmas and that it coincides with the World Cup final.

Once Semple Stadium was ruled out due for the rest of the due to pitch repairs, O’Sullivan was pleased to see the game taken to Dublin.

“We were saying Thurles or Croke Park, we felt it had to be in one of the main venues. A good pitch surface was needed.

“There’s no issue with travel. We’ve done that before, Parnell Park last year for the semi-final and Croke Park for the final. So that was never really a concern. Sure don’t they all want to play in Croke Park? That’s part of the dream really. We’ve good memories of the last time we were there. I think they’ve made the right call. We’re happy it’s there now.

“I think it’s something they should look at in the future as well. I’m not saying anything about Parnell Park last (January) but that pitch surface was poor. They made the best they could with it in fairness to them. I certainly think it’s something they should look at in the future, get the semi-finals as double-headers in Croke Park, definitely.

“You know what these lads are putting into it too and they deserve to play on the best surfaces that are available. There’s a buzz factor in going to Croke Park and I think they deserve that in fairness to them.”

O’Sullivan is glad that it was not decided to defer the match until January.

“I see there was talk of giving clubs the option of going to the New Year, well that was never floated with me anyway. I don’t know how real that was. We would be totally against that anyway.

“I think the plan is to finish it before Christmas ultimately in the calendar and I think that’s what they need to try and get to if they can, get the All-Ireland final before Christmas. That’d be great if they could do that.”

The Ballygunner-Ballyhale game will throw-in at 3.30pm, a half hour after the World Cup final kicks off in Qatar.

“I’m not sure in the past, I don’t know how many GAA matches were called off because of soccer matches,” says O’Sullivan.

“I’d say it’s probably something that I’m sure the numbers will probably be down for viewers (on TV).

“But listen it’s a huge club game, I’d say they’ll still get that hardcore GAA fan there watching it.”

philip-mahony-and-darragh-osullivan-celebrate-with-the-trophy Darragh O'Sullivan (right) pictured celebrating Ballygunner's All-Ireland club win over Ballyhale Shamrocks. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

After his team’s win on Saturday, O’Sullivan travelled to Croke Park on Sunday to watch Ballyhale Shamrocks survive a second-half challenge from Kilmacud Crokes to retain their Leinster crown.

It sets up a third meeting between the clubs, Ballyhale winning the 2019 All-Ireland semi-final and Ballygunner winning last February’s All-Ireland final after Harry Ruddle’s sensational late goal.

“One win apiece, definitely sets it up now. The way they lost it too, I’m sure that’s going to give them plenty momentum and motivation as well in fairness. But look the experience we got from that day too will stand to us.”

Ballygunner report a clean bill of health after their victory over Ballyea. Waterford U2O hurler Jake Foley was ruled out last week with a fractured ankle.

“We lost Jake, he’s a good young lad, you would have seen him come on in some of the matches. He fractured his ankle there last week, he’d be a loss to the panel. He was man-of-the-match in the intermediate county final win.

“A great kid, he’s a gem now, absolute gem. The way he’s committed to it, my heart was broke now when he said it to me the other day. Hopefully he’ll  be back soon enough but he certainly won’t make this match anyway.”

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