Tuesday 31 January 2023 Dublin: 6°C
INPHO/Cathal Noonan Henry Shefflin (left) and Colin Fennelly (right) will be key for Ballyhale Shamrocks on Sunday.
# Showdowns
And then there were 4 - Leinster Club SFC reaches critical stage
The hurling battle of Ballyhale Shamrocks and Oulart-the-Ballagh will also command interest in Leinster this weekend.

Leinster club SFC semi-finals
Portlaoise (Laois) v Emmett Óg Killoe (Longford)
O’Moore Park, Portlaoise, 2pm
(Ref: Cormac Reilly, Meath)
Experience collides with novelty in this clash in O’Moore Park.

For Portlaoise, after claiming their sixth successive Laois title this year, campaigns in Leinster are something they have rapidly grown accustomed to. For Emmett Óg Killoe, winners of their first Longford crown in 17 years, this is unchartered territory.

The rise of the small rural club provides charm for this fixture. They have clipped the wings of St Anne’s of Wexford and Navan O’Mahony’s of Meath in earlier rounds. And triumphing after a replay in both the county semi-final and final of the Longford championship illustrates their is a steel in the Emmett Óg team as well.

Possessing Michael Quinn and Seanie McCormack, stars in Glenn Ryan’s Longford side of late, at opposite ends of the pitch has helped them flourish in the provincial arena.

Yet this is their most difficult challenge yet. Portlaoise, provincial winners in 2004 and 2009, have aims of progressing far in this season’s club championship. They demonstrated that graphically in their last outing by blitzing St Patrick’s of Wicklow by 18 points and strikingly lead by 2-6 to 0-0 at half-time in that game in Aughrim.

They have some excellent defenders in Cahir Healy and Conor Boyle, while Paul Cahillane, Barry Fitzgeraldn and Brian McCormack are established attackers up front. Emmett Óg have been inspiring this season yet this game looks a bridge too far.

Verdict: Portlaoise
Betting: Portlaoise 2/9, Emmett Óg Killoe 4/1, Draw 9/1.

Paul Cahillane will be a key figure for Portlaoise this weekend. Pic: INPHO/Cathal Noonan

Sarsfields (Kildare) v Ballymun Kickhams (Dublin)
St Conleth’s Park, Newbridge, 2pm
(Ref: Cormac Kinsella, Laois)
There was little evidence of Ballymun Kickhams resting on their laurels after their Dublin county final success.

That memorable victory over Kilmacud Crokes was celebrated with gusto yet they are clearly serious about making their mark in Leinster as well. Their opening hurdle against Mullingar Shamrocks looked tricky but they clambered over it in comfort and had 12 points to spare at the final whistle.

Dean Rock is their leading light up front as he has racked up impressive totals throughout the season but Jason Whelan and Ted Furman have also showed up well in a team that play an attractive brand of football.

Philly McMahon, Alan Hubbard and James McCarthy form a solid core to the team and they will hope to avoid some of the nervy play that characterised the final quarter in the Dublin county final.

Sarsfields have done what was required in their last two games against Carbury in the Kildare side and Louth side St Patrick’s in the Leinster quarter-final. They have had to endure some anxious moments but have tapped into a winning habit.

Alan Smith and Padraig Brennan are danger men close to goal, Ray Cahill is performing well up front while Gary White is a combative presence at midfield. It’s a difficult away trip for Ballymun, and one that should be tighter than their last game, yet they have the capacity to progress.

Verdict: Ballymun Kickhams 4/11
Betting: Sarsfields 11/4, Ballymun Kickhams 4/11, Draw 15/2

Oulart-the-Ballagh’s Peter Murphy in action in the Wexford county final. Pic: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

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Leinster club SHC semi-final
Oulart-the-Ballagh (Wexford) v Ballyhale Shamrocks (Kilkenny)
Wexford Park, 2pm
(Ref: Barry Kelly, Westmeath)
Forewarned is forearmed. Three years ago in early November, Ballyhale Shamrocks needed to draw on all their resources to get past Oulart-the-Ballagh in Wexford Park. It was a classic encounter that went all the way to extra-time before the Kilkenny side won by 2-20 to 1-21.

This is Ballyhale’s first Leinster campaign since then after their recent Kilkenny title win but there is no questioning the experience in their team. It is worth noting though that one of the instigators of their revival in that clash in 2009 was TJ Reid, sidelined through injury at present, as he shot 2-4 in a game where they recovered from a nine-point deficit.

Oulart-the-Ballagh emerged from Wexford again this season and continue their quest to land the Holy Grail, a Leinster title. Defeats in the last two finals against O’Loughlin Gaels and Coolderry has hurt them.

Yet they have battled on admirably. And it was those battling qualities which were needed in abundance in their quarter-final win over Kilmacud Crokes. On a wretched Parnell Park afternoon, they were glad of the attacking play of Garreth Sinnott and the marksmanship of Nicky Kirwan.

Being back on south-east soil will be a comfort to them. Ballyhale Shamrocks will travel warily. Yet a team with the glamour names of Shefflin and Fennelly, plus the important lesser lights of Aidan Cummins and Mark Aylward, deserve the tag of favourites.

Verdict: Ballyhale Shamrocks
Betting: Ballyhale Shamrocks 2/5, Oulart-the-Ballagh 9/4, Draw 10/1

Race For Glory: 2012 Leinster Club SFC