Ballyhale Shamrocks are the most dominant club team in the country. Not only have they won seven All-Ireland club finals, but they have not lost an All-Ireland final since 1979.
That was their first time to feature on the biggest stage in the club game and they have gone on to claim the win in all of their subsequent appearances.
They will be favourites to claim an eighth All-Ireland win on Sunday when they take on a Borris-Ileigh side reaching this stage for the first time since 1987. It will be the second game on the trot that Ballyhale come against an unfamiliar opponent.
They defeated Derry's Sluaghtneil in the semi-final, a game that went right down to the wire. TJ Reid says that while they weren't certain what they would get from their opponents on that day, there was no doubting the quality they possess:
We respect every team we play. We analyse them.
We had to do a little bit more homework on them, because we wouldn’t have heard about them or we wouldn’t have seen them as much as you’d see St Mullins or you’d see the likes of Birr. They’re traditional names.
But yeah, we had to do a little bit more digging on them, to watch a little bit more of them. But look, you only really know how good they are when you play them.
While we respected them, we thought they were good, but after the game, as soon as we got onto the bus, we were saying ’Jesus, these lads are very good’. They were excellent. They’d beat most senior teams down in Kilkenny.
While Ballyhale will be taking part in their fourth final in the last 11 years, this week's game is still somewhat of an uncharted territory. With the final being moved from St Patrick's Day to mid-January the buildup for this one has been very different to what they have been used to in the past.
Reid admits that he would have preferred to see the game take place on the traditional date.
"If you’re asking me the question would I rather the 19th January or St Patrick’s Day, I’d pick St Patrick’s Day," he said.
"For me St Patrick’s Day is the grassroots of Ireland. The GAA is the grassroots of Ireland. It’s a unique day and it’s a special day. The GAA is the whole community, it’s the whole connection of the GAA. You’re playing on a day that’s celebrated. As I said, it’s different. 100 per cent it’s different."
The change in date means a change in training practices. No longer could the team take their traditional break between the Leinster final and All-Ireland series. Ballyhale trained right through the festive period, a big change from previous years.
You had that break and then you had your time to relax. We came back on the 5th of January last year for our first collective session. That night, there was two or three players getting sick because it was the first night back! And that’s the way it was.
Then you had a few weeks to get ready.
[This year] we came back, we trained on Stephen’s Day and New Years Day, and fitness levels – Stephen’s Day we did a very physical session and everyone was flying it. It’s more demanding on players of course.
As if the game on Sunday needed any extra bite, one will come from the sideline. Borris-Ileigh are coached by Johnny Kelly, who has a close link to one member of the Ballyhale Shamrocks panel.
Kelly is part of Michael Fennelly's backroom team with the Offaly hurlers for 2020, with the former Kilkenny player still hurling with his club. While the pair are comrades on the inter-county scene, they will be major rivals this weekend.
Reid says that Fennelly has managed his time expertly in his playing and management duties, and he is sure that he and Kelly will have had a bit of craic in the buildup to this one.
We had to train on Sunday morning, earlier at 10 o clock, because Michael had to go [to the Kehoe Cup final]. He had to run off. We had a warm-down and a talk after trianing and what not, but unfortunately Mick had to get a shower and travel up to Offaly.
We’ll be finished on Sunday, and he could have five or six months of full dedication to Offaly then...
The two of them are probably very professional. There’s probably a bit of banter up there and what not. It’s probably a little bit weird, because they’re probably afraid to talk to each other about the game. So whoever wins or loses, I’m sure there’ll be a few digs going.
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