After a week where most of the drama surrounding the Senior Football Championship happened in the boardroom, the only drama in the Senior Hurling Championship will be on the field this Sunday as the four remaining teams battle it out for a place in the decider.
There has been no argument over the structure of the Senior Hurling Championship as it has once again produced gripping action that has caught the attention of hurling fans across the county, while providing plenty shocks aplenty along the way.
However once the dust settles on the two semi-finals this Sunday, it would be a major surprise if the line up for the final is not a repeat of the 2012 version with Rathdowney-Errill and Clough-Ballacolla once again locking horns.
Rathdowney-Errill have been far and away the form team throughout the League and Championship. They have an ideal mix of youth and experience and are strong in every area of the field. They were lose at the back in their opening game with Borris-Kilctton, but once they tightened up, they restricted their opponents to one point in the last 20 minutes. Their half-back line of Alan Delaney, James Corrigan and James Fitzpatrick was superb in this period and will prove a major obstacle for Abbeyleix to overcome.
At the other end Ross King has been in superb form scoring 1-20 in two games including 0-10 in their second round game with Clough Ballacolla. That game however had more the air of a challenge match than a combined championship encounter and League Final as if both teams expected to meet again with far more important silverware on the line.
Hoping to block Rathdowney-Erril’s path back to the final are an Abbeyleix team who give a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘surprise package’.
Going into the campaign, Abbeyleix were seen as a lock for relegation. They just dodged relegation from Division 1A, winning just two of seven games, but now they find themselves just 60 minutes away from a spot in the final
Led by the scoring exploits of Eoin Reilly and a ferocious tenacity that has caught many of their opponents off guard, Abbeyleix put that abject league form behind them with an impressive win over Castletown/Slieve Bloom in their opening game in the champions. A five point defeat to Camross followed but Abbeyleix, not content to have just avoided relegation, came back again with a win over The Harps in Round 3 to reach the last four.
Their achilles heel has been their lack of accuracy in front of goals as they are averaging 11 wides per game. Against Camross, a game they only lost by five points, they hit 14 wides while their opponents only hit five. If they are to have any chance of causing yet another upset, they will have to be far more clinical in front of goals as chances will be at a premium against the champions of 2012.
Rathdowney-Errill go in a heavy favourites and should return to the final but they will be pushed all the way by an Abbeyleix side who have absolutely nothing to lose.
The other semi-final should be a much closer affair however, based on this year’s form, Clough-Ballacolla go into the game with defending champions Camross as marginal favourites.
After a testing opener against The Harps, which they came through with just five points to spare, they were obviously not going full throttle as they lost out to Rathdowney-Errill.
A truer reflection of their form was their 3-24 to 1-11 win over Castletown-Slieve Bloom in the quarter-final where Stephen Maher, Wille Hyand and Stephen Bergin were all in fine scoring form. They played with an urgency that suggested they are peaking at the right time which is ominous for the remaining teams in the championship.
After winning their first title for six years in 2013, Camross have yet to regain that form in the 2014 campaign. They needed a point six minutes into injury-time to force a replay in their opening game against a Portlaoise side that has since been relegated.
They did come through the replay but they again struggled against Abbeyleix and were lucky that their opponents were having a poor day in front of goals. It was hoped earlier in the year that they would have Zane Keenan back for the second round but he has yet to puck a ball in the championship and it is unclear whether he will be around for this Sunday’s crucial game. In his absence, a number of players have been chipping in to share the scoring burden and that will be a positive going into this showdown.
While they have yet to find form, Camross are the defending champions and they will not go down without a fight but that might not be enough to see them past a Clough-Ballacolla side who seemed focussed on regaining the Senior Hurling title they last won in 2011.
Rathdowney/Errill to beat Abbeyleix
Clough Ballacolla to beat Camross