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5 talking points after Ballyhale and Borris-Ileigh qualify for All-Ireland decider

The Kilkenny and Tipperary champions saw off Slaughtneil and St Thomas in yesterday’s semi-finals.

TJ Reid and Brendan Maher both starred as their clubs triumphed.
TJ Reid and Brendan Maher both starred as their clubs triumphed.
Image: INPHO

1. Ballyhale’s big names step up as back-to-back dream remains alive

Cast into the role of overwhelming favourites beforehand, Ballyhale had to steel themselves during a searching examination in Newry. Slaughtneil got closer on the scoreboard to Henry Shefflin’s charges than anyone across their previous five championship games in Kilkenny and Leinster. TJ Reid’s free-taking and Colin Fennelly’s capacity to gather possession, while always offering a goals-coring threat, proved crucial ingredients.

They are the benchmark for every club hurling team in the land but there is one major feat that has eluded the champions Ballyhale Shamrocks. Their seven All-Ireland titles have been spaced out from 1981 to last year, managing to claim back-to-back crowns the only statistic absent from their glittering CV. This is the first time they have contested two consecutive finals, a chance to retain their crown awaits.

2. More All-Ireland pain for Slaughtneil

Slaughtneil have been rightly recognised for their club heroics in recent times, swapping between football and hurling to emerge from their south Derry home and go toe to toe with the flagship names around the country. But serial county and provincial wins have not materialised into a national breakthrough, a trend that is a source of deep frustration for them.

Yesterday was their best hurling semi-final showing against a club festooned with standout figures. But admiration for their display at chalking up 2-19 against Ballyhale will not soothe the pain of this loss. They have continuously fought back to this stage yet between the two codes, sustaining four All-Ireland semi-final defeats and two final losses since 2015 must be a tough sequence of results to absorb.

3. Borris-Ileigh’s brilliant run keeps on going

When they contested the Tipperary final in 2017, it was Borris-Ileigh’s first time gracing that stage in 29 years. When they managed to get over the line last November, it was the first county senior title they had delivered in 33 years. However those barren spells have not obstructed their progress since moving out of Tipperary.

They have taken down the Cork, Waterford and now Galway winners in the club hurling championship. The reigning Munster kingpins and beaten All-Ireland finalists are part of those conquests. The inspiration of Brendan Maher, the emergence of JD Devaney and a refusal to wilt in a second-half battle served them well once more. Now only the current title holders lie in their path as they bid to match the club’s class of ’87 that reigned on St Patrick’s Day.

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Tweet by @Borris-Ileigh GAA Source: Borris-Ileigh GAA/Twitter

4. St Thomas fall short in pursuit of second crown

Ever since their breakthrough in 2013, St Thomas have craved a second All-Ireland title to ensure they join illustrious company in Galway circles as a multiple champion. They have backed up their feats locally by adding three further county titles but have been frustrated with a pair of All-Ireland semi-final losses and that Croke Park final reversal last March.

Yesterday was a game they could never get a grip of, even when receiving the early boost of Eanna Burke’s blast to the net and managing to creep into the lead after half-time. The eventual seven-point defeat did not portray how St Thomas were in the hunt for long stretches but they never hit full speed and 14 wides was indicative of a showing that was sluggish at times.

5. Subplots await in Croke Park decider

Senior showdowns between Kilkenny and Tipperary have been customary at county level, particularly over the last decade, but 19 January will mark the first occasion the two club representatives will face off. Certainly Tipperary’s absence from this stage has been a factor, Borris-Ileigh ending a wait for the county since Toomevara’s showing in 1994.

There is intrigue elsewhere in the potential match-ups between stellar names on either side – Paddy Stapleton v Colin Fennelly, Brendan Maher v TJ Reid, JD Devaney v Joey Holden. 

And the rivalry that is sparked in the unlikely scene of the Offaly hurling management with boss Michael Fennelly (Ballyhale captain) going up against his coach Johnny Kelly (Borris-Ileigh manager).

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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