Kilkenny Senior Hurling Semi-Final – James Stephens v St Martins
With Ballyhale Shamrocks and county champions O’Loughlin Gaels meeting in the other semi-final, both St Martins and James Stephens will see this as an excellent opportunity to reach the county final.
This should make this a competitive and exciting county final and with the likes of John Mulhall and Jackie Tyrrell on duty, a large crowd will be expected in Nowlan Park for this one.
St Martin’s are probably the surprise packet in this semi-final line-up but there were signs there in the spring that the side from north Kilkenny could mount a bid for the championship. They enjoyed a hugely productive league campaign which set them up for a good championship.
They started the championship with a disappointing three point loss to Ballyhale but subsequent wins over Clara, Fenians, Graigue-Ballycallan and a draw with Dunamaggin put them through to a quarter-final tie with Fenians. In that quarter-final, a superb performance from Kilkenny’s all-Ireland winning forward, John Mulhall helped them to a 1-16 to 0-6 win.
Once again, St Martin’s will be hoping that Mulhall, from the slightly unusual position of corner-forward can have a major influence on the game. Others they will be hoping to shine on Sunday are team captain and centre-back, James Dowling as well as full-forward, James Maher.
James Stephens have long been one of the traditional powers of Kilkenny hurling having garnered eight titles to date. However, with Ballyhale dominating in recent years, the ‘Village’ have not won the title since completing a two in a row back in 2005.
This year, with Ballyhale looking a little bit more fragile, Stephens’s will fancy themselves for a tilt at the title and so far this year, their form has not let them down. They started their championship campaign with a 17 point victory over Tullaroan and then followed that up with wins over newly promoted, Dicksboro, county champions, O’Loughlin Gaels and Carrickshock with a loss to Erins Own being the only blot on their copybook.
In the quarter-final, Stephens eventually saw off Eddie Brennan’s Graigue-Ballycallan by ten points thanks in no part to 1-6 from Eoin Larkin.
James Stephens, with the likes of Tyrrell, Larkin and Matt Ruth on board should prove too strong for the Muckalee based side.
Verdict: James Stephens