KILMALLOCK carry the hopes of Limerick this St Patrick’s Day in the All Ireland club hurling final in Croke Park.
Attempting to win a first ever senior club title for Limerick, Kilmallock are faced with the might of roll of honour leaders - Ballyhale Shamrocks of Kilkenny.
The bookies make the south Limerick men the 2-1 outsiders.
Ger O’Loughlin’s team become just the fourth ever Limerick side to contest the All Ireland club SHC final.
It’s hard to believe that it was Kilmallock themselves that were the last Limerick side to reach this final - in 1993 (losing 1-17 to 2-7 to Galway’s Sarsfields). Before that, Patrickswell lost in 1991 to Kilkenny’s Glenmore, 1-13 to 0-12, while in 1990, Ballybrown were defeated by none other than Ballyhale Shamrocks, 1-16 to 0-16.
Kilmallock arrive in Croke Park as underdogs but that won’t bother a side managed by Ger O’Loughlin and selectors Adrian O’Brien and Mike Heelan. They have already turned the underdog tag on its head in the Limerick final, Munster semi-final and final.
Trainer Adrian O’Brien is adamant that Kilmallock are ready for the challenge.
“It is going to take a really really good team to beat us and if they do fair play to them but I don’t anticipate they will,” declared Kilmallock trainer/selector Adrian O’Brien.
“Another underdog and it has served us well to this point. You wouldn’t want to have it any other way than playing not only a Kilkenny team but probably the cream of Kilkenny in Ballyhale. They are a fantastic side but we won’t show them any respect once we walk out onto the field on St Patricks Day,” outlined O’Brien, brother of Kilmallock and Limerick star, Paudie.
O’Brien, who runs his own Fitness & Performance facility for strength and conditioning, said that their route to Croke Park is largely down to the even balance across the Kilmallock team.
“When those lads walk over the line they are all very mature - the fellas who came out of U-21s a couple of years ago like Jake Mulcahy, Robbie Egan, Kevin O’Donnell Mark O’Loughlin have all developed into really strong mentally and physically players now and are leading the charge when traditionally it would be Paudie, Graeme, Gavin and Philip but now we have these guys coming through and it takes the pressure off some of the ‘senior players’ and that’s what we needed this year.”
“One thing we have is the ability to score from out the field - everyone refers to the Munster final but we have the ability with Bryan O’Sulllivan, Paudie (O’Brien) and Kevin O’Donnell, Liam Walsh, Philip O’Loughlin in the half back line and midfield to contribute 8-9 points in a game and that takes pressure off the inside forwards and makes the opposition work to close down the space around the middle of the field,” he recalled.
O’Bren feel that the Kilmallock run to the final is another signal of the current status of Limerick hurling.
“Limerick hurling is in a really good place at the moment with some really good teams - Doon are a fine team, Adare are still a fine team, Na Piarsaigh are arguably one of the best teams in the country and Patrickswell are coming again.”
Last May, Kilmallock were beaten 2-20 to 1-11 by Na Piarsaigh in round one of the Limerick SHC. At a team meeting afterwards they made a vow to improve their performance from game to game. They have played 10 games since and all have lived up to their promise.
Of course, Tuesday’s final will be the biggest test of all.
From the Kilkenny villages of Ballyhale and Knocktopher, Ballyhale Shamrocks, who wear predominantly white jerseys with a green trim, lead the All Ireland club roll of honour with five titles - their last in 2010.
Across their line-up with a galaxy of stars with five of their starting attack holders of All Ireland medals under Brian Cody’s Kilkenny tenure - Henry Shefflin, TJ Reid, Colin Fennelly, Cha Fitzpatrick and Eoin Reid. On top of that are central defensive pair Michael Fennelly and Joey Holden.
But Kilmallock won’t be daunted by the star studded outfit.
They have already shown they enjoy the underdogs tag and have expressed happiness with their final preparations.
Since their All Ireland semi final win over Ulster champions Portaferry, Kilmallock have travelled to Dublin to get a walk around Croke Park and played a Dublin U-21 selection in a challenge game.
Last Tuesday night they finalised their countdown with a game against the Clare U-21s in the Gaelic Grounds.
No late injury worries are reported.
Kilmallock will look to inter-county trio captain Graeme Mulcahy, Gavin O’Mahony and Pauide O’Brien to lead their charge.
In defence O’Loughlin brothers Mark and Philip will be key while midfield dominance is essential where Bryan O’Sullivan, O’Brien and Jake Mulcahy have been shining lights so far.
With a settled defence and midfield, the big selection choice for Kilmallock is in attack with Kieran Kennelly, Paddy O’Loughlin and Robbie Hanley to battle for the final spot.
Bidding to create history and a timely boost for Limerick hurling, Kilmallock know that they need to repeat their county final performance and their Munster final performance if they are to derail another glorious day for Henry Shefflin and Co.
Today’s final will be televised live on TG4 at 2.00.