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Ballygunner and Ballyhale Set For Massive Hurling Semi-Final Clash

Ballygunner and Ballyhale Set For Massive Hurling Semi-Final Clash
By Rory Cassidy Updated
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On Sunday either Ballygunner or Ballyhale Shamrocks will get the ideal Christmas present. In a repeat of last year's dramatic All-Ireland senior club hurling championship final, the near neighbours go head-to-head once again in the All-Ireland semi-final at Croke Park.

For the last number of years both sides have dominated at provincial level. Kilkenny's Ballyhale have won four consecutive Leinster titles, while Ballygunner, who are only twenty minutes down the road across the Waterford border, have won three of the last four Munster championships.

The Waterford side claimed their first ever All-Ireland crown in February thanks to a last minute goal from substitute Harry Ruddle deep into injury time, denting Ballyhale's hopes of winning three in a row.

The rivalry between the sides continues to grow fuelled recently thanks to comments made by Ballyhale's Colin Fennelly.

Fennelly branded the speech on the steps of the Hogan Stand made by Ballygunner captain Barry Coughlan as disrespectful. Coughlan claimed that his side had "robbed" Ballyhale but that the Kilkenny team had robbed teams throughout the years telling them what "goes around comes around."

In the build-up to the game this week both teams are eager to play the significance of the comments down.

"I'm not sure what Colin meant or what he said, but I do know what Barry said in the context of last year's speech," Ballygunner's Shane O'Sullivan tells Balls.ie.

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"As part of that speech he was extremely complimentary to Ballyhale.

"We have massive respect for every opponent we play, we have the utmost respect for all teams left in the competition.

"One thing that has served us really well in the past nine years is the humility we have as a group to disrespect nobody."

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13 December 2022; Ballygunner and former Waterford hurler Shane O'Sullivan pictured ahead of the AIB All-Ireland GAA Hurling Senior Club Championship Semi-Final, which takes place this Sunday, December 18th at Croke Park at 3.30pm. The AIB GAA All-Ireland Club Championships features some of #TheToughest players from communities all across Ireland. It is these very communities that the players represent that make the AIB GAA All-Ireland Club Championships unique. Now in its 32nd year supporting the GAA Club Championships, AIB is extremely proud to once again celebrate the communities that play such a role in sustaining our national games. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Ballyhale's Joey Holden is equally quick to dismiss the magnitude of his teammates words.

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"I don't think it will it have much effect on the match on Sunday.

"All Ballygunner will want, and all Shamrocks will want is the headline that their team is in an All-Ireland final.

"What was said was said but ultimately we want to perform our best on Sunday."

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Both players are eager to make it back to Croke Park in early 2023 as they bid to lift the Tommy Moore Cup.

O'Sullivan and Ballygunner are still basking in last year's glorious victory.

"People have died since and on their deathbed I've brought in the cups to them, and they said that was the best day of their lives," he says.

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"The hair has stood up on the back of my neck more times in the last year with stories about that game than ever in my life.

"That's a measure of I think what it was for our community and particularly for the older generation who would have known Ballygunner to not have a field up until 1994, it's just incredible.

"Last year was incredible but this year is a completely different ballgame, different year, different group and different opportunity."

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Holden has faced a tough year losing his father in September. He had spent the summer in Central America and South America travelling but returned as Ballyhale chased and eventually won the five in-a-row in Kilkenny.

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The team went onto win the Leinster title seeing off the challenge of a strong Kilmacud Crokes side.

"It was egging away at me to try and get back to do the five in-a-row and then we had dad's passing in between that.

"I'm very grateful that we were back at that stage because we wouldn't have got to say our final goodbyes otherwise.

"Daddy wanted us all to hurl so much and then hurling brought us back in order to say goodbye to him," he poignantly adds.

"It's been a rollercoaster of a year in that sense but we are still hurling away so we can't complain."

The former Kilkenny All-Ireland winning captain is hoping that last year's defeat will give them the motivation to get over the line on Sunday and setup a decider with either St. Thomas' or Dunloy Cuchullains but is fully aware of the strenght of their opponents.

Ballygunner have won nine Waterford titles in a row and recently beat Ballyea in the Munster final.

"They're a serious team," he says.

"When you get to an All-Ireland semi-final, you're up against incredible teams that have won a lot to get there.

"Ballygunner are no different, they're an exceptional team.

"If we don't play well, we'll be beat, it's as simple as that but if we do play well, we have a chance.

"We'll have just to prepare ourselves and give it an almighty crack."

Ballygunner and Ballyhale not bothered by World Cup final clash

The GAA has received some criticism in the past week as one of the biggest and highly anticipated club hurling matches clashes with the World Cup final in Qatar.

However neither player has an issue with missing one of global sports biggest events.

"I think there'll be a lot of people from all four communities that will be there really preferring to be there rather than to watch the World Cup final," O'Sullivan says.

"I'm not sure how much of a challenge it is for people to be honest."

Holden believes the clash is "unfortunate" but would much rather be playing in Croke Park.

"I think whether you like or don't like soccer it's very hard not to get wrapped up in the World Cup.

"It's unfortunate but I know there's a lot of games to be played in Croke Park (this weekend), the camogie finals have a big day on Saturday and maybe they (the GAA) have looked at everything and Sunday was the only option," he adds.

"As a player, if you asked me to play on Christmas Day, I'd play an All-Ireland semi-final on Christmas Day."

While that is not quiet on the cards whoever comes out on top on Sunday is set for a laid back festive season. The prospect of an All-Ireland senior club hurling championship final will be looming large in their minds as they sit down to enjoy their Christmas dinner.

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