St. Canice’s Credit Union Senior Hurling Championship Quarter-Final – James Stephens vs Dicksboro – Sunday, 2.15pm, UPMC Nowlan Park
It’s the 2020 finalists against the 2019 county finalists on Sunday afternoon in the home of Kilkenny GAA.
Of course, both sides were easily swatted aside by the indispensable Ballyhale Shamrocks in both deciders, but second in Kilkenny is no mean feat and would suggest that both clubs have been in good shape over the last number of years.
That is certainly true for Dicksboro who were the last county champions in 2017 before the Shamrocks went on a crusade that has yet to end.
Despite a hugely successful half a decade or so for the town club, there does seem to be a hangover from that bruising 21-point defeat in last year’s final.
Their season and performances have become progressively worse. They have slowly limped to this stage of the championship rather than confidently gallop to the last eight as many would have expected following their comfortable victory against Erin’s Own in their opening league game.
Since then, they just about maintained their unbeaten record with a late comeback against Clara to salvage a draw and that strong start to the league was left in tatters as they got dismantled in the final quarter against fellow city side O’Loughlin Gaels in the conclusion to the league.
That left them in an underwhelming and unimpressive fourth position in an admittedly tough group, but more was expected internally and externally for a group of players with enormous potential.
Páraic Fanning’s side put in their worst performance of the entire season in last weekend’s defeat of Lisdowney in their opening championship game. With the greatest of respects to a Lisdowney team who have been a breath of fresh air this year, more would be expected of a club with the resources, history and quality that Dicksboro possess than a mere one-point victory against senior newcomers.
Irrespective of how they got here, they are where they wanted to be at the start of the season. And a town derby against one of their fiercest foes may be exactly what is required for Dicksboro to reignite their season and advance to the latter stages of the championship once more.
In contrast, James Stephens have been outstanding up until now.
The 2011 champions, along with Bennettsbridge, have propelled themselves to a position where they are the biggest challengers to the Shamrocks throne.
Their forward line is ridiculously talented. Eoin Guilfoyle is as good a free-taker in the county, if not even further afield. He scored 12 of their 24 points in their second round victory against Ballyhale Shamrocks. That was a 100% success rate and gives Seamus Dwyer’s men a considerable and crucial advantage against any side that they face.
In addition to the lethal Guilfoyle, Tadhg O’Dwyer, Cian Kenny and Mikey Drennan all pose a threat and are amply provided by a strong back line and midfield as well as hardworking wing forwards Matthew Ruth and Matthew McWey.
Five points from a possible six in games with Rower-Inistioge, Ballyhale Shamrocks and Lisdowney that was followed up with their coronation as Shield champions last Saturday, means James Stephens come into this mouth-watering tie as clear favourites to extend their unbeaten record and in the process their season.
If Dicksboro come good, this could easily be a classic. However, that seems increasingly unlikely considering their uneasy path to this stage and James Stephens will be too strong if they can sustain the form that has got them this far.
Verdict: James Stephens victory