Bray Emmets hope to add another twist to Leinster Club IHC
By John Harrington
There’s a good case to be made that the AIB Leinster Intermediate Hurling Championship has been the most interesting provincial club championship thus far.
There have been shocks aplenty, with pre-competition favourites Danesfort and Oulart The Ballagh eliminated by Trim and Naomh Barrog respectively. Bray Emmets’ win over Abbeyleix also went somewhat against the grain.
It means this weekend’s semi-finals – Bray Emmets v Naomh Barrog and Trim v Tullamore – have a real buzz around them because every team will be allowing themselves to dream they can now go all the way and win some provincial silverware.
“When you look at the last four, ourselves, Trim and Naomh Barrog are probably the surprise packages in the semi-finals,” says Bray manager, Paul Carley. “It's great for teams like that, that's what you try to do to promote hurling in these counties, and all you sometimes need is a bit of a breakthrough.
“It's a confidence thing more than anything. I see it with the lads in Bray, it's about confidence and believing that they can play at this level.
“You go play a challenge match against senior teams from other counties and you're competitive. It's when you get to the championship that sometimes they don't believe they're good enough.
“Trim knocking out Danesfort and Naomh Barrog knocking out Oulart just completely opens up the whole Leinster championship for the four teams left. Any of the four can win it.”
For Bray Emmets, their win over Abbeyleix was a redemptive one.
They’ve made a lot of progress as a team under Carley, winning four county titles in a row, but the manner in which they excited last year's Leinster championship at the hands of Wexford champions Oylegate-Glenbrien felt like a real step backwards at the time.
They were beaten by 15 points, and walking away from Bellefield Park that day Carley hoped his players would have the opportunity to make amends this year.
“To be honest, we were embarrassed in Wexford last year when we played Oylegate,” he says.
“There were a few issues regarding injuries and Covid outbreaks but we still didn't in any way do ourselves justice.
“We conceded a couple of early goals and just completely fell apart. That's in the back of your mind all year and you're trying to get back to Leinster and redeem yourself in some way. Whether that's winning or not, you just want to go out and play as well as you can.
“If we do everything right on Saturday, play as well as we can, and Naomh Barrog beat us, then best of luck to them. It's a case of whether you lose on Saturday or lose a Leinster or All-Ireland, the important thing is that you go out knowing you've done everything you can.
“There's nothing as bad as that feeling of coming out of Wexford last year after just completely letting ourselves down and letting Wicklow hurling down.
“We're going into Saturday well prepared and confident, but we know it's a massive challenge ahead of us in Naomh Barrog.”
Former Wexford star Carley previously managed Ballyboden St. Enda’s so has an intimate knowledge of Dublin club hurling.
He’s been hugely impressed by the strides that a youthful Naomh Barrog team have made in the last couple of years.
“I would have played against Barrog with Ballyboden for the three years I was up there. Looking at them now, it's a completely different team. They're all young lads. They're all probably 25 and under. They're on the cusp of a wave at the moment after winning Senior 3 in Dublin. They've beaten Oulart so they're coming in on a massive high.
“What you find in GAA is that when you have a group of young lads they don't really over-think things, they don't get nervous, they don't get any way overawed by what's happening. I've looked at them a bit and they've a lot of good young lads. They've a very strong spine through the middle of their team from full-back to full-forward.
“It's a case of we'll need to match them for their enthusiasm and get at a few of their key players and overpower them there. They're definitely coming full of confidence and won't fear us, there's no point saying anything different. Nobody does, and that's fair enough, because while we've won four Wicklow championships we haven't made any impact on Leinster.
“They'll come down to Aughrim fully confident they're going to win and they have a right to be that way after probably beating the favourites. We're hoping we can get our own game right, target them in a few positions, and see how it goes.”