INPHO St Finbarr's, Ballyhale, Blackrock and James Stephens all in action today.

6 talking points as the Barrs, Ballyhale, Blackrock and the Village chase hurling glory

Major showdowns today in Cork and Kilkenny.

1. Ballyhale’s five-in-a-row bid

It is eight months now since Ballyhale Shamrocks hearts were broken in quite stunning fashion by Ballygunner in Croke Park. Yet their recovery continues apace as Kilkenny county final day comes around and they are back on the hunt for silverware.

There is an added dimension to this game. Victory would secure five-in-a-row for the first time in their history and bring them level with Tullaroan at the top of the Kilkenny roll of honour. Their 2006 success in 2006 felt like a breakthrough after a 15-year barren spell, they are now chasing an 11th Kilkenny title in 17 campaign and TJ Reid has been a constant presence in that dominant run.

2. The long wait for St Finbarr’s 

It is just short of three decades since a St Finbarr’s team last graced the Cork senior hurling showpiece. That stat is at odds with the rich era that preceded it, contesting ten finals between 1979 and 1993, winning seven of them. Today is a milestone.

Having suffered nine semi-final defeats in the interim, their recent last four dismantling of Newtownshandrum represented a turn in their fortunes. Unbeaten in this championship, including a win over today’s opponents in Blackrock, they have sparkled in different ways – putting 4-19 on the board against Sarsfields and holding their nerve in a tense finale with Douglas. There is a healthy mix of established names like the Cahalane brothers and Billy Hennessy and the emerging class of Brian Hayes, Ethan Twomey and Ben O’Connor.

damien-cahalane Bryan Keane / INPHO St Finbarr's Damien Cahalane. Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

3. James Stephens try to stop their nemesis

You must journey back to 2011 for the last time that The Village were the kings of Kilkenny hurling. They won’t need anyone to remind them of the control Ballyhale have exerted. The 2019 final, 2020 semi-final and 2021 semi-final all resulted in James Stephens defeats at the hands of the powerhouse that is the Shamrocks. The loss two years ago probably hurt, a thrilling clash that went away from them by 3-22 to 1-26.

Conor Browne and Cian Kenny fly the flag at county level with Kilkenny, while Niall Brassil, Tadhg O’Dwyer and Eoin Guilfoyle are a trio of forwards that need watching. They will hope that the lessons of past defeats have been absorbed and they can finally conquer their Kilkenny club nemesis.

cian-kenny-dejected ©INPHO James Stephens player Cian Kenny. ©INPHO

4. Blackrock aim to back up 2020 triumph

Two years ago Blackrock ended a long wait of their own in Cork, an 18-year title drought. It arrived after an extra-time cracker when Blackrock saw off Glen Rovers by 4-26 to 4-18, in the surreal setting of an eerie Páirc Uí Chaoimh with only a small number of spectators present as Covid continued to overshadow everything.

Today will be a contrast, a huge crowd expected for an appealing fixture and a Blackrock team seeking to back up that success. This group have been coming with a while, five county U21 final appearances on the bounce between 2012 and 2016 – a spell that yielded three titles  – resulting in the club’s hopes being pinned on them to deliver at senior level.

A second county championship would copperfasten their credentials. There is an impressive balance to their team and a real attacking threat in the trio of Alan Connolly, Robbie Cotter and Tadhg Deasy.

robbie-cotter-and-alan-connolly-celebrate-at-the-final-whistle Ryan Byrne / INPHO Robbie Cotter and Alan Connolly celebrate Blackrock's county final win in 2020. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

5. Big names on the sideline

Away from the action on the pitch, there will be considerable interest in the profile of those that are guiding them. Brian Cody had barely time to settle into retirement from his role as Kilkenny boss after a glittering career in charge, when his club came calling in August. Their early season struggles were banished by progress in the championship arena and James Stephens have flourished with the addition of their illustrious selector.

In Cork there are big name managers at play. Louis Mulqueen has won county senior titles in Clare with St Joseph’s Doora-Barefield and in Galway with Liam Mellows, a success in Cork with Blackrock would add to his collection. Ger Cunningham won it all as a player with St Finbarr’s, now after inter-county roles with Cork and Dublin, he aims to manage his club to glory, his sons Ben and Sam part of their panel.

eoin-cody Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ballyhale's Eoin Cody. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

6. New county bosses watch on

There is a similar dynamic at play in both Cork and Kilkenny as the preparations commence for the 2023 season. New managers have been installed in the hurling hotseats, both Pat Ryan and Derek Lyng have graduated from All-Ireland U20 winning roles to take on the pressure of the senior position. They’ll be keen observers as they see how the senior final day action unfolds.

There will be familiar faces at play. Lyng worked with Cian Kenny, Eoin Guilfoyle, Dean Mason and Eoin Cody recently at U20 level. Ryan had Ethan Twomey, Ben Cunningham, Jack Cahalane, Brian Hayes, Alan Connolly and Robbie Cotter at his disposal with Cork U20 sides.

The arrival of a new county boss offers the chance to impress. It will be interesting to see what youngsters put their hand up for inclusion.

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