Home Sport GAA Your guide to the game as Clough-Ballacolla take on the mighty Ballyhale...

Your guide to the game as Clough-Ballacolla take on the mighty Ballyhale Shamrocks in Leinster club hurling final

Clough-Ballacolla

Clough-Ballacolla v Ballyhale Shamrocks 
In Croke Park at 1.15pm – Live on TG4

This is it then. The biggest day in Clough-Ballacolla’s proud history.

The inhabitants of Clough, Ballacolla and the surrounding rural townlands will depart en masse for Croke Park today to take on Ballyhale Shamrocks, the greatest club team of all time, in the Leinster final.

Story so far

Clough-Ballacolla only won the delayed 2020 final in August and began the defence of their title three weeks later against The Harps, a game they won 2-23 to 0-17. They then beat Rosenallis by 5-27 to 1-10 before finishing the group with a 3-27 to 1-14 win over Castletown.

They saw off Rathdowney-Errill by 0-24 to 3-13 in the semi-final before then getting the better of Borris-Kilcotton by 1-25 to 2-21 in an epic final.

In Leinster, they were were 1-17 to 0-12 winners over Rapparees of Wexford and then 1-16 to 1-13 winners over Dublin champions Kilmacud Crokes.

Ballyhale Shamrocks for their part finished in the lower places of the Kilkenny senior league, a format that feeds into the championship.

It ensured their opening round also doubled as a relegation playoff but they beat Graigue-Ballycallan (3-23 to 2-20) before following up by beating Bennettsbridge in the quarter-final (0-27 to 1-15), James Stephens in the semi-final (2-20 to 1-17) and then O’Loughlin Gaels in the final (3-19 to 3-15).

In Leinster they were 0-22 to 0-16 winners over Mount Leinster Rangers of Carlow before then needing extra time to beat St Rynagh’s from Offaly last weekend by 3-24 to 2-18.

Who are Ballyhale’s main men?

The four-in-a-row Kilkenny champions are littered with big names, chief among them Kilkenny great TJ Reid.

But he is just one part of a dangerous attack that also includes Colin Fennelly, Adrian Mullen and two-in-a-row Young Player of the Year, Eoin Cody.

At the back Joey Holden, an All Ireland winning captain with Kilkenny, is their mainstay at full-back while Darragh and Ronan Corcoran in midfield are lively players.

Joe Cuddihy, who was sent off last Sunday against St Rynagh’s and is suspended for today, will be a loss but they have no shortage of quality all over the field.

And for those not familiar, who are Clough-Ballacolla’s key players?

Cathal Dunne in goals has never lost a championship match having taken over from the long-serving Danny Hanlon for the 2020 campaign.

Current Laois players include captain Stephen ‘Picky’ Maher, Willie Dunphy, Stephen Bergin, Diarmuid Conway, Mark Hennessy and Lee Cleere while Mick McEvoy, Darren Maher, Willie Hyland, Aidan and Brian Corby have all played senior for the county too.

Centre-back McEvoy is the oldest player on the team at 38, and has five Laois championship medals, including one as captain in the breakthrough team in 2009. Hyland, Darren Maher and Willie Dunphy are the other survivors from the 2009 team while Picky Maher claimed his first Laois medal in 2011.

As they have done in their two Leinster club games so far, you can expect Clough-Ballacolla to play Mick McEvoy in a deep role at centre-back with Willie Hyland dropping back from midfield.

Lee Cleere looks the most likely candidate to be handed the task of marking TJ Reid while Diarmuid Conway will surely be given a specific marking job too.

Are Clough-Ballacolla an amalgamation or what’s the story?

Because of the emergence of Rathdowney-Errill and Borris-Kilcotton as successful recent amalgamations in Laois and The Harps prior to that (Durrow and Cullohill), there is a view out there that Clough-Ballacolla is an amalgamation too.

But that’s not the case. They are a club representing the entire parish of Aghaboe made up of the two small villages of Clough and Ballacolla. An indication of their small size is that there are just 35 pupils in the school in Ballacolla with 62 in Clough.

Originally the club was called Ballygeehan, and they were a powerhouse, providing the bulk of the team that won the 1915 All Ireland with Laois and winning five Laois titles in a row from 1914 to 1918.

At some point they changed their name to St Canice’s and won intermediate titles in the 1950s before reaching the senior final in 1963. It later changed to Ballacolla and they won an intermediate in 1972 before it became Clough-Ballacolla in the mid 1980s.

Under that name they won Junior in 1989 and intermediates in 1991 and 1998 before the current generation was ushered in with minor titles in 2002, 2003 and 2006 and then a first senior in 2009, the first for the parish in 91 years. Since then they’ve won five Laois titles in all, more than any other club in that period.

They’ve produced many Laois hurlers down through the years but also can lay claim to two of the 1986 Laois football team that won the National League – goalkeeper Martin Conroy who played football with Ballyroan and wing-back Mick Ahearne who lined out for O’Dempsey’s.

A Croke Park honeymoon!

By rights Clough-Ballacolla forward Willie Dunphy should be on his honeymoon in Las Vegas and Cancun this week but after getting married two weeks ago, he and his wife Niamh postponed the honeymoon until after Christmas.

A Leinster club semi-final win over Kilmacud Crokes and a final in Croke Park against Ballyhale Shamrocks has had to do instead! With arrangements changed, the newly-married couple head on their honeymoon next week instead.

Give us a brief lowdown on Ballyhale’s proud record?

Ballyhale Shamrocks were only founded in 1972 following an amalgamation of the two junior clubs in the parish – Ballyhale and Knocktopher. The ‘KBK on their crest represents the two initial clubs as well as Knockmoylan, an even earlier club from the area.

They quickly established themselves as a force in Kilkenny and after winning their first senior title in 1978, they also went on to win their first All Ireland that year. In all they have won eight All Ireland titles and lead that roll of honour as well as the Leinster roll of honour with 10.

Incidentally they are only second on the Kilkenny list of winners with 19 championships, one behind Tullaroan.

Ballyhale Shamrocks supplied a victorious All Ireland captain for Kilkenny seven times: Ger Fennelly (1979), Liam Fennelly (1983, 1992), Henry Shefflin (2007). James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick (2008), Michael Fennelly (2009) and Joey Holden (2015).

Currently they are the back-to-back All Ireland champions having won in 2019 and 2020 and are going for three-in-a-row this year as there was no competition last season.

What are the odds?

Ballyhale Shmrocks are 1/5 favourites with Clough-Ballacolla at 4/1 and the draw at 11/1. The handicap on Ballyhale is -6.

What’s the story with tickets?

It’s an all ticket game and tickets must be purchased online here. Adults are €15 and juveniles are €5.

And TV coverage?

After being live on RTE in their last two rounds, Clough-Ballacolla’s game today is on TG4. TG4 are also showing deferred coverage of the Ulster football semi-final between Kilcoo of Down and Glen of Derry.

There will also be radio coverage on RTE, Midlands 103 and KCLR while our Live Blog will be providing minute-by-minute updates.

SEE ALSO – Check out all our Clough-Ballacolla coverage ahead of the Leinster club final

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Steven Miller is owner and managing editor of LaoisToday.ie. From Laois, Steven studied Journalism in DCU and has 14 years experience in the media, almost 10 of those in an editorial role. Husband of Emily, father of William and Lillian, he's happiest when he's telling stories or kicking a point.