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St Kieran's won the Croke Cup for a 19th time last year
St Kieran's won the Croke Cup for a 19th time last year
Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

6 players from Thurles CBS and St Kieran's to watch in today's Croke Cup final

Semple Stadium is the venue for Saturday’s Masita All-Ireland Post Primary Schools A hurling final
Apr 4th 2015, 9:27 AM 11,235 2

WILL IT BE a 20th crown for St Kieran’s of Kilkenny or a second Croke Cup success for Tipperary’s Thurles CBS? All will be revealed at Semple Stadium this evening (5pm), when the two schools battle it out for Masita All-Ireland Post Primary Schools A hurling glory.

Here, we run the rule over six players likely to have a key influence on proceedings in Thurles.

Thurles CBS:

1. Billy McCarthy

McCarthy is a dynamic young player fast making a name for himself. A member of the Thurles Sarsfields team that won last year’s Tipperary senior hurling championship, he also lined out in the Munster semi-final defeat against Cratloe of Clare, shooting a point as 14-man Sars lost out.

A county minor last year and a member of this year’s Tipperary U21 set-up, McCarthy is one of the main leaders in the Thurles CBS team. It’s McCarthy’s third year representing his school in the A series and he has scored vital goals throughout the 2014/15 campaign.

McCarthy netted in the Harty Cup final victory over Rochestown College and also netted this peach against Gaelcoláiste Mhuire in the quarter-finals: (Go to 1:05)

Source: undefined via undefined

2. Chris McCullagh

Half back or centre back for Thurles CBS, McCullagh was a Tipp minor last year. Like McCarthy, McCullagh has also hurled in the Harty Cup for his school for three years. Renowned as one of the most determined players in the county, McCullagh has marked some of the opposition’s best forwards in this competition, including Árdscoil Rís player and rising Limerick star Ronan Lynch.

McCullagh is already a senior player with his club Moycarkey-Borris and his no-nonsense style of defending is tailor-made for a man-marking role on one of the main St Kieran’s dangermen. McCullagh has been one of the unsung Thurles heroes on their march to Harty Cup glory and an All-Ireland decider.

The Thurles CBS team celebrate Thurles CBS were crowned Croke Cup champions in 2009 Source: James Crombie/INPHO

3. Ronan Heffernan

From the Clonoulty-Rossmore club, Heffernan is a player that can operate at half-back or midfield. He was a member of the Tipp minor panel two years ago but his 2014 campaign was decimated by double hip surgery last summer. Heffernan also played in the Harty Cup semi-final defeat against Dungarvan Colleges in February 2013, when he came on as a sub.

Heffernan, brother of full-back Enda and cousin of half-forward Niall, is a superb athlete and one of the sweetest strikers of a sliotar on the Thurles team. Heffernan is expected to have a big impact on the game from a deep-lying position. He was suspended for the concluding stages of the Harty Cup but slotted back seamlessly into the team since then.

Ronan heffernan Ronan Heffernan was captain in 2012 when West Tipperary won the Munster U16 B plate

St Kieran’s:

1. Liam Blanchfield

Bennettsbridge starlet Blanchfield is one of the survivors from last year’s Croke Cup success. Vice-captain of the St Kieran’s team, he was involved in the killer goal that floored local rivals Kilkenny CBS in last year’s final, as his delivery was flicked to the net by Tadhg O’Dwyer.

Despite the fact that they were underdogs, Kilkenny stormed to victory in last year’s All-Ireland minor final and Blanchfield played his part, scoring two points from play against Limerick at Croke Park.

He operated in a free-scoring full-forward line then but Blanchfield has been deployed further back the field for St Kieran’s and at 6ft 2″ tall, he is a proven ball-winner and scorer. Blanchfield scored 1-1 for Bennettsbridge in February’s AIB All-Ireland junior club hurling final victory over Fullen Gaels.

Liam Blanchfield 7/9/2014 Liam Blanchfield won an All-Ireland minor medal with Kilkenny last year Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

2. Ray Lahart

Thurles CBS cannot afford to concede scoreable frees to St Kieran’s as Ray Lahart is just one player who can take full advantage. In a hard-fought semi-final victory over Presentation Athenry, Lahart’s seven points were crucial as he contributed six frees and a 65. James Stephens hitman Lahart isn’t the only man capable of wreaking havoc from placed balls, however, as Jason Cleere and Joe Connolly are also proficient in this regard.

But Lahart will have to show good form to last the hour, as he was replaced before half-time in a physical Leinster final victory over St Peter’s (Wexford). However, Lahart has started every game since coming on to score three pointed frees against Kilkenny CBS in the Leinster quarter-final and he slotted over ten points (9 frees and 1 65) in the provincial semi-final victory over Good Counsel of Wexford.

Lahart added two frees in the All-Ireland quarter-final against Rochestown College before producing that tour de force from placed balls against Athenry.

James Maher lifts the cup James Maher lifts the Croke Cup for St Kieran's last year Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

3. Jason Cleere

Bennettsbridge player Cleere will anchor the St Kieran’s half-back line for the Croke Cup decider. Cleere has shuffled across to centre back after filling the right-half-back slot on last year’s winning team. And it was a 2014 campaign to remember for Cleere, who also went on to claim Leinster and All-Ireland minor hurling medals with Kilkenny.

Cleere is capable of orchestrating matters from inside his own half and is a scoring threat to Thurles from long-range frees. Cleere is also an imposing figure at 6ft tall and his favourite sports star is retired former Kilkenny defender JJ Delaney. Cleere also won an AIB All-Ireland junior club hurling medal with Bennettsbridge in February.

Darragh Wafer and Jason Cleere celebrate at the final whistle Jason Cleere (5) celebrates All-Ireland junior club hurling glory with Darragh Wafer Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Who do you think will prevail in Thurles? Leave your comments below…

Originally published 3 April at 12.05

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Jackie Cahill


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