Preview: AIB All Ireland Club Hurling Finals
By Cian O'Connell
Saturday January 18
AIB All Ireland Club Intermediate Hurling Final
Fr O'Neills (Cork) v Tullaroan (Kilkenny), Croke Park, 6pm
It has been a most rewarding stint for Fr O'Neills and Tullaroan who both hit Croke Park dripping with intent and belief.
Fr O'Neills investment in the underage ranks means accomplished adult teams are now being fielded.
That so many players have performed so well for Cork at various levels adds to the sense of excitement.
Declan Dalton will take minding, while the Millericks and Daniel Harrington have also contributed handsomely to Fr O'Neills rise.
The Cork outfit, though, will be fully aware of the talent in Tullaroan's ranks.
With the Walsh brothers dotted throughout the field the Kilkenny and Leinster champions bring a formidable team to the capital.
Unfortunate not to secure Kilkenny glory recently Tullaroan finally earned silverware last October and a provincial title has been added to the list.
Conahy Shamrocks (Kilkenny) v Russell Rovers (Cork), Croke Park, 4pm
Conahy Shamrocks response to losing the Kilkenny Junior Championship Final against O'Loughlin Gaels second team has been emphatic.
A Leinster title and an All Ireland Semi-Final victory ensures the James Bergin powered outfit will feel that further glory can be attained at Croke Park.
Russell Rovers were within seconds of exiting the competition at the penultimate stage.
Brian Hartnett remained cool and calm, though, as Mícheál Breathnach's were on the verge of taking a serious scalp in Kilmallock.
In extra-time Russell Rovers' class was evident and this decider is expected to be close and particularly hard fought.
Sunday January 19
AIB All Ireland Club Senior Hurling Final
Ballyhale Shamrocks (Kilkenny) v Borris-Ileigh (Tipperary), Croke Park, 2pm
Borris-Ileigh didn't panic. Even after a tepid North Tipperary Hurling Championship Final defeat.
That defeat to Kiladangan hurt Borris-Ileigh, but it wasn't fatal and Johnny Kelly has found a way to work on the bodies and minds.
What has followed includes spectacular Brendan Maher decorated wins flecked with improbable points and memorable moments.
It is why the proud maroon and white team will make the trip to Croke Park, the journey every club craves.
Ballyhale Shamrocks, though, remain the most decorated outfit in the competition and a winning culture has been passed through the generations.
On St Patrick's Day last year it was hard not to feel a degree of sympathy for St Thomas because everywhere you turned a different problem needed to be solved. Such is Shamrocks' dynamism and drive.
At the penultimate stage Slaughtneil summoned a daring display, but it still wasn't enough. Colin Fennelly plundered a couple of goals, TJ Reid was sharp from frees and Ballyhale advanced.
Henry Shefflin is on the sideline; Joey Holden and Michael Fennelly feature in the defence; Reid, Adrian Mullen, and Colin Fennelly provide a powerful and potent attacking threat.
The Reids and Codys are also key performers in a seriously accomplished collection of hurlers.
Borris-Ileigh will believe, though, that they can cause a surprise. Defiance has been evident throughout a remarkable campaign.
Paddy Stapleton, Brendan Maher, Dan McCormack, and the Kennys have acquired experience at various levels of the game. Kevin Maher and James Devaney glimmer with promise too.
The highly regarded Kelly has masterminded All Ireland club wins before too. So Borris-Ileigh face a stern assignment, but it is a challenge the Tipperary and Munster standard bearers will embrace.
It is one of the many reasons why so much intrigue surrounds this eagerly anticipated match.