St. Canice’s Credit Union Senior Hurling Championship Quarter-Final – Clara vs Tullaroan – Sunday, 12.30pm, St. John’s Park
The quarter-finals of the Kilkenny Senior Hurling Championship have thrown up some great storylines.
The slightly out of shape champions come up against their biggest contenders. There’s a town derby that means so much to everyone involved with both clubs and there’s a repeat of the biggest surprise of the season to date as a wounded favourite comes up against the plucky underdog who will be hoping that lightning can strike twice.
Then there’s Tullaroan vs Clara.
There is literally nothing to whet the appetite regarding this game. No juicy subplots or vengeance seeking from either team. No side so badly out of form that neutrals are desperate to see if they can fall one step further, or no team that has been so good that people have to go and inspect for themselves to witness why there has been such hype around them.
No, this is the battle of two honest, hardworking and very good sides. And that is the unique selling point for this one. What it lacks in sexiness it more than makes up for in substance.
Clara look as though they are back to the form that saw them crowned county champions twice (2013 and 2015) in the midst of a period dominated by Ballyhale Shamrocks.
Those two victories were every bit as good an achievement that you have seen or will see considering the players that not just the Shamrocks, but other clubs contained during an unprecedented era of success for the Kilkenny intercounty side.
And while they have been off the pace since then, Clara are back to their best.
Much like their previous successful outfits, this Clara side does not have a star player but rather rely on a strong collective.
When one looks at their starting team and the substitutes that manager Kevin Ryan has to call on, there isn’t anybody that stands out. But that is why they are so good. The players serve the team, the team doesn’t serve a specific player or group of players.
With this approach, they always stand a chance. They function like very few of their rivals from their back line through to their midfield and finally amongst their forwards.
5 points from 6 in games against Dicksboro, Mullinavat and Graigue Ballycallan placed them on top of the group and despite their three-point defeat to Bennettsbridge in the league final, they are in red-hot form.
They come into the championship under the radar. That is exactly where they want to be and the fact that they go unspoken about or unheard of until the latter stages of the championship means they can continue to go about their business without any fuss. That is a sort of freedom that almost no other club side are afforded.
One of those very few sides that remains absent from the minds and discussions of many hurling followers are Tullaoran.
Again, much like their opponents on Sunday, they are not a team reliant on individuals although they do have some standout players in the form of their centre back Pádraig Walsh and a forward line that possesses Walsh’s brother Shane and the irreplaceable Martin Keoghan.
They were far from convincing in their opening tie with Lisdowney but eventually got a crucial point that would prove useful as they pulled away from the threat of relegation. Their second round defeat of Rower-Inistioge seemed to be a return to form but that was followed up by a harrowing 18-point loss to Ballyhale Shamrocks.
They overcame that disappointment with a victory against Erin’s Own in their opening championship encounter and seem to be in good nick as they look forward to this last eight clash.
If Liam Keoghan’s side can put together a full 60-minute performance, something that they have not been able to do in their recent games, Tullaroan will be worthy opponents of one of the low-key favourites for the championship.
However, Clara’s experience and nous will prove vital along with their extra level of scoring power.
Expect a close game, but Clara to prevail.
Verdict: Clara victory