St. Canice’s Credit Union Senior Hurling Championship Quarter-Final – Mullinavat vs O’Loughlin Gaels – Saturday, 4pm, Páirc na Seamróg
In a league campaign that was full of surprise results across both groups, surely Mullinavat’s second round defeat of O’Loughlin Gaels was the one that caught the attention of most.
That victory seemingly came out of nowhere. Mullinavat had been easily disposed of by Clara in their opening fixture while O’Loughlin Gaels eventually got the better of a battling Graigue Ballycallan side to get off to the perfect start.
The second round meeting between the two teams looked almost certain to be the last between these two proud clubs not just for this year, but possibly for a prolonged period with Mullinavat amongst the early favourites to be fighting relegation at the latter stages of the championship.
That did not come to fruition, however, as the southern club pulled off a shock result with their 1-19 to 2-13 defeat of Saturday’s opponents.
That has made this weekend’s encounter all the more interesting. Was that result merely a fluke that won’t be repeated? Or are Mullinavat genuine contenders to become county champions as their recent performances against Erin’s Own and James Stephens may suggest?
Mullinavat’s league campaign was nothing short of superb. They responded to that defeat to Clara with victories against O’Loughlin Gaels and Erin’s Own in a crunch tie. That left them in second place and in a Shield Final. Despite a nine-point defeat to James Stephens in the decider, they are in a very healthy place coming into their first knockout game of the season.
Forwards such as Willie O’Dwyer and John Walsh have proven their worth and were key figures as Adrian Burke’s side bounced back from that heavy loss to Clara. More than most they have led the renaissance and along with the other forwards pose a threat that O’Loughlin’s know only too well.
Question marks still surround their defence. While it has improved since the opening game where they conceded 1-26 (29), both Erin’s Own (2-16) and James Stephens (2-21) have scored over 20 points with relative ease while O’Loughlin’s managed 2-13 in the league clash.
That sloppiness may be a cause for concern for Burke, especially if a backlash of sorts comes during the early stages of the quarter-final.
Should they manage to survive an early onslaught, Mullinavat will have a platform to go on and prove once more that they are here on merit, not due to luck.
No team is in a more uncertain position than O’Loughlin Gaels coming into the quarter-finals. Despite hard-fought victories against Graigue Ballycallan and Dicksboro either side of that defeat to Mullinavat in the league, and a first round championship win over Rower-Inistioge, that single defeat lingers and is something that they have not been able to shrug off.
Their performances with the exception of last week’s cruise against Rower-Inistioge, have been patchy. A late goal saw them over the line in their opening round clash with Ballycallan while they were behind until the final quarter against Dicksboro. On top of that, the 2016 champions were downright poor against Mullinavat.
However, whether it is a cliché or not, this is championship. And judging by last weekend’s result (3-25 – 0-20), it’s fair to say that Andy Comerford’s men may be peaking at the right time.
They have firepower that on paper few can equal, including Mullinavat. Jack Nolan, who scored two goals against Dicksboro, the evergreen Mark Begin, Eoin O’Shea and Owen Wall offer the perfect blend of youthful exuberance and experience.
Young or old, they have a whole host of quality players. If they can put it all together from 1 to 15 and utilise their bench, they should have enough to gain revenge for their league defeat.
But that’s far from a guarantee. The confidence and togetherness amongst a Mullinavat panel who have serious momentum behind them may well give them an edge for what will almost certainly be a tight encounter.
Verdict: Mullinavat victory