Preview: Sunday’s AIB All Ireland Club SHC Semi-Finals
By Cian O'Connell
Sunday January 5
AIB All Ireland Club Senior Hurling Championship Semi-Finals
Ballyhale Shamrocks v Slaughtneil, Páirc Esler, 2pm
At a press event a week before Christmas, the totemic Slaughtneil dual star Chrissy McKaigue spoke passionately about reducing the gap on the national stage.
That is precisely what Slaughtneil are eager to accomplish on Sunday against a Ballyhale Shamrocks outfit flecked with accomplished performers.
So impressive when returning to the club summit on St Patrick's Day, Ballyhale retained their Kilkenny and Leinster crowns with the minimum of fuss.
How a string of emerging players are dovetailing with the established names is a further source of optimism, but Henry Shefflin's outfit will afford Slaughtneil the utmost respect.
A third Ulster title in four years illustrates Slaughtneil's consistency and the fact that seven Derry Championships on the spin have been collected is a reminder of their culture.
Michael McShane has stitched a fine team together with Brendan Rogers, Se McGuigan, and the McKaigues key contributors.
Cormac O'Doherty's penalty shrugged off Dunloy's resistance in the Ulster Final ensuring Slaughtneil returned to the penultimate stage in Ireland.
Delivering on that canvas is what Slaughtneil crave, but Ballyhale's pedigree is well documented with seven All Ireland victories.
The latest of those was achieved with the Fennellys, TJ Reid, and Joey Holden being assisted by the talented Mullens and Codys.
The Shamrocks winning habit always seems to be maintained.
St Thomas' v Borris-Ileigh, LIT Gaelic Grounds, 4pm
Several interesting sub plots exist. St Thomas' response following a harrowing AIB All Ireland Club Final loss; Borris-Ileigh relevant again; Johnny Kelly's shrewd sideline involvement.
Ultimately the prize is mighty, a place in the AIB All Ireland Club Senior Hurling Championship Final at Croke Park on January 19.
With the stakes piled so high St Thomas' and Borris-Ileigh will both believe that GAA headquarters can be reached.
In the Galway SHC decider Liam Mellows caused significant problems for St Thomas', but Kevin Lally's charges found a way.
Having initially survived, Thomas' eventually thrived following the introduction of Fintan Burke.
On St Patrick's Day Burke suffered a cruciate ligament knee injury, but his comeback was announced in dramatic fashion at Pearse Stadium on November 10.
Burke pilfered two critical points and supplied the neat assist for Eanna Burke's opportunistic goal.
Borris-Ileigh had waited and wondered in Tipperary since 1986, but the highly regarded former Portumna manager Kelly helped them secure county and Munster glory.
Brendan Maher's delightful point decorated the provincial final win over Ballygunner, while the experience of Paddy Stapleton, Dan McCormack, and Conor Kenny combined with the promise of JD Devaney proves Borris-Ileigh's quality.
David Burke and Conor Cooney have delivered for St Thomas and Galway during the past decade so there is no shortage of top inter-county talent on display.
This game could go the distance.