Crossmaglen Rangers' Aaron Kernan with St Eunan’s John Paul Clarke. INPHO/Presseye/William Cherry

Talking Points: 2012 GAA Club Championships

Some of the key issues that emerged from yesterday’s club hurling and football games around the country.

1. Crossmaglen’s standards are not slipping
For the Armagh giants, the challenge to become the first ever side to win three consecutive All-Ireland club football titles is a huge one.

Maintaining the necesssary hunger levels is not easy.

Having to do so with a squad that no longer contains Danny O’Callaghan, Stephen Finnegan and Francis Hanratty – who all started in last March’s decider win over Garrycastle – makes it tougher again.

They stuttered their way through this year’s run to honours in Armagh which lead to some anxiety before yesterday’s Ulster quarter-final against Donegal champions St Eunan’s.

Yet Crossmaglen dismissed any concerns about their abilities as they romped to a ten-point win. They chalked up 3-11, demonstrating their ability to finding the net once more, with players like corner-back Paul Hughes and wing-forward Kyle Carragher starting to making their mark in the starting fifteen

In the process they set up the tantalising prospect of a semi-final battle with Tyrone’s Errigal Ciaran next Sunday, a team that Crossmaglen have never beaten. The chance to redress that statistic is one that Tony McEntee’s side will relish.

2. De La Salle continue to win tight games
For a team who only made their provincial senior debut four years ago, Waterford’s De La Salle have become quite the competitors in the Munster senior club hurling championship.

The title-winners have never lost a game in the province, claiming silverware in 2008 and 2010, and maintained that winning run by defeating Clare’s Newmarket-on-Fergus yesterday. It was a hard-fought victory, delivered courtesy of John Keane’s late goal, but was representative of a trend that De La Salle have developed.

Their five Munster club games to date have seen them win by two points (Sarsfields in 2008), two points (Adare in 2008), one point (Sarsfields in 2010), one point (Thurles Sarsfields in 2010) and three points (Newmarket-on-Fergus in 2012). Clearly the De La Salle players know how to triumph in battles.

De La Salle’s John Keane celebrates scoring the winning goal. Pic: INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan

3. St Brigid’s remain the team to beat in the west
Manager Kevin McStay spoke last week about how pivotal their meeting with Salthill-Knocknacarra was in yesterday’s Connacht semi-final in order to accurately gauge their form.

On the evidence of their hugely impressive 0-15 to 0-8 win which featured brilliant showings from big guns Senan Kilbride, Frankie Dolan and Karol Mannion, they will be firmly in the mix again this year. They have now won seven successive games in the Connacht championship and are closing in on becoming the first club to do three-in-a-row in the province since Roscommon neighbours Clann na nGael, who won six-in-a-row between 1984 and 1989.

Ballaghaderreen will be an awkward challenge for them to surmount in the final but there is no doubt that St Brigid’s ambitions must be to emerge from Connacht again and try to land that elusive first All-Ireland title. Clann na nGael are a cautionary tale in that regard though. For all their brilliance in Connacht, they never managed to win that All-Ireland title and suffered the heartbreak of five final defeats in the 80′s.

4. Thurles Sarsfields and Sarsfields point the way
Club hurling games in the winter months may be often tight and low-scoring affairs but Thurles Sarsfields and Sarsfields bucked that trend yesterday in Semple Stadium. Over the course of a game that spanned just over sixty minutes, the teams conjured up 39 scores.

The game featured superb scoretaking from the likes of Pa Bourke, Johnny Enright, Aidan McCormack, Cian McCarthy and Eoin Quigley while Lar Corbett’s early goal was a magnificent solo effort. Thurles Sarsfields emerged with the honours though and will be hoping it can be the springboard for their first ever Munster title.

Sarsfields contributed handsomely to a fine contest yet their loss continued a miserable run for Cork club in this championship. Over the past 24 provincial campaigns, only four Cork clubs have reached the final – Newtownshandrum (2003, 2005 and 2009), Erins Own (2006), Blackrock (2002) and Midleton (1991) – and only Newtownshandrum have tasted glory.

5. Ballymun Kickhams not resting on their laurels
When a team ends a barren spell without a county championship title, there must be a temptation to be satisfied with local success. Certainly Mullingar Shamrocks manager Ray Smyth appeared to think that was a condition which afflicted his team, after they bowed out at the first hurdle in Leinster yesterday after previously winning the Westmeath title this year for the first time since 2000.

Their opponents in yesterday’s game had no such problems however. Ballymun Kickhams were celebrating their return to the provincial stage for the first time since 1985 yet they maintained the high standards set in their Dublin county final win.

Paul Curran’s team cantered to a 2-13 to 0-7 success and their brilliant style of play suggests they could make a real impact in Leinster this year.

Ballyhale Shamrocks’ Henry Shefflin signing autographs for supporters yesterday in Nowlan Park.. Pic: INPHO/Cathal Noonan

6. Ballyhale Shamrocks refuse to go away
All winning streaks must eventually culminate and in 2010 Ballyhale Shamrocks saw their five-in-a-row dreams in Kilkenny thwarted by O’Loughlin Gaels at the semi-final stage. Hopes they would bounce back immediately were then dashed last year by James Stephens in the county final replay.

But this Ballyhale Shamrocks team continue to endure. Yesterday they got the better of Dicksboro by four points to win the club’s 14th Kilkenny senior title and their fifth in the last seven years. Indeed ten of the players that featured in yesterday’s game, played in their 2006 final victory against O’Loughlin Gaels and only injury prevented TJ Reid from increasing that number of representatives to 11.

Ballyhale Shamrocks go forward to a Leinster semi-final meeting with Oulart-The-Ballagh as they seek to add to the three provincial crowns they have won in 2006, 2008 and 2009. Their record is beginning to compare favourably with that of the great Ballyhale Shamrocks team who between 1978 and 1991 managed to win nine Kilkenny titles, four Leinster’s and three All-Ireland’s. The debate over which side was better is an engaging one.

Thurles Sarsfields to meet De La Salle in Munster final

St Brigid’s and Ballaghaderreen set for meeting in Connacht decider

Semi-final spots booked in the Leinster Club SFC

Ballyhale and Crossmaglen march on