Having met in last year’s St. Canice’s Credit Union Kilkenny senior hurling championship final and serving up a ding-dong battle in the league this season, James Stephens and Ballyhale Shamrocks are getting ready to run it back one more time this weekend.
They’ll meet on Sunday in the second semi-final game of the day at UPMC Nowlan Park with a place in the history books in Kilkenny on the line.
For Shamrocks, while the defending county champions may have looked on the ropes during the league stage, they’ve proved their championship mettle again this year in progressing through to the semi-final stages, aided by the return from Dubai of Colin Fennelly who played a key role in their quarter-final victory over Dicksboro despite carrying a suspected calf injury. Last year saw them win a fifth consecutive senior county title and a record-equalling 20th. They’ll still have to get past the Village if they’re to add to that tally.
James Stephens have looked like a side reborn this year with standout performances from the likes of Niall Brassil again (last year’s top scorer) and Luke Scanlon who’s found himself in KCLR’s The Kilkenny Hurling Podcast team of the week more than most this year.
Former Kilkenny senior hurling manager Brian Cody and James Stephens clubman Brian Cody took over the reins of the Village senior hurlers from Séamus Dwyer this season. Usually one to let the hurling do the talking, Cody spoke to our reporter Edwina Grace as part of the launch of the Kilkenny Lions Club’s annual hamper appeal, acknowledging his role this year and Sunday’s crunch semi-final.
“I just have an involvement with the club, always. I’m involved with the team again this year (having had a notable presence on the sidelines last year). We have a big game, everyone knows how difficult it’s going to be for us, but that’s where it’s at and we’re happy enough to be there”, said Cody.
While he might be a man of few words in pre-match or post-match interviews, the performances from some of his side’s players have drawn plaudits from all corners, including The Kilkenny Hurling Podcast‘s Eddie Scally. When breaking down some of the key matchups this weekend, Scally reserved particular praise for Luke Scanlon.
See also: The Kilkenny Hurling Podcast episode 10, semi-finals preview
“Luke Scanlon’s having an inspired season for them, so he’s going to cause huge problems (for Shamrocks)”, says Scally.
“Where he positions is going to be a big call. He’s been listed at midfield in every single game. I’ve seen James Stephens play four times this year, I’ve only seen Luke Scanlon play midfield in one. He seems to play in or around centre-forward, in that half-forward line.”
“If Luke Scanlon goes at centre forward, it’s a bit like the Richie Reid scenario. Richie Reid has that tendency to drop off and protect the full-back line but work like the quarter-back, winning a lot of ball, distribution. He was brilliant the last day (in the quarter-final against Dicksboro), particularly when they went down to 14 men he got them over the line.”
“That’s going to be a huge battle because Richie’s going to have his hands full with Luke Scanlon if Luke is in around there.”
“And what Luke can do, which is really good, is he can drift in and out of games. He can drift out of position, the ball is moving down the right wing, he has a tendency to drift away from where the possession is he just seems to end up in the right place with space. Next thing, a ball’s popped back to him in the pocket and he’s popping it over the bar.”
“He turns up in positions you wouldn’t expect to find him. He could be the third man in an attack where there are two other players after bombing forward. He’s the third lad at the end of that tail and next thing he’s popping it over the bar, so he’s going to be a handful for Ballyhale as well – there’s no two ways around it.
Listen to the full podcast below or wherever you do your podcast listening with a discussion around Ballyhale Shamrocks v James Stephens from approximately 1 hour 20 minutes.
You can hear Ballyhale Shamrocks v James Stephens live on KCLR and Scoreline.ie this Sunday from 3.15pm with thanks to Gerry Comerford Drilling.