Niall Gilligan of Sixmilebridge is tackled by Ballygunner’s Philip Mahony and Barry Coughlan during the club’s last AIB GAA Munster Senior Hurling Championship meeting in Walsh Park in 2017. Photo: INPHO/Ken Sutton.
Sunday Next – in Sixmilebridge at 2 p.m. AIB Munster Club S.H.C. Quarter-final: Sixmilebridge V Ballygunner
On Sunday next Ballygunner will step out in defence of their Munster title, the first Waterford side to do so, when they face Clare champions Sixmilebridge on the Clare club’s home patch. The Gunners, Mount Sion and De La Salle have each won two Munster title but this is the first time that one of them has retained the county title the following year thus enabling them to defend their Munster title.
While in most cases clubs play their Munster Championship games in their County grounds Sixmilebridge will play at home as their ground, O’Garney Park, is designated as the number two venue in Clare to Cusack Park, Ennis complete with floodlighting and stand as well as being a sand based pitch. Playing at home can be a big advantage for the Clare champions but that can be overcome as De La Salle showed when they played at the same venue in 2008 on their march to their first Munster title.
HISTORY IN THIS FIXTURE
There is some history between Ballygunner and Sixmilebridge. The clubs met in the Munster semi-final of 1995 in Walsh Park where a Sixmilebridge side, containing four of the Clare team that won the All Ireland championship that year, came away with a 5-11 to 2-10 victory before going on to win the Munster and All Ireland championships. The ‘Bridge won their second Munster title in 2000, beating Mount Sion in the final but losing to the Waterford champions in the 2002 final.
Ballygunner and Sixmilebridge met for the first time since that 1995 game in 2017 when Sixmilebridge returned to Walsh Park for the Munster semi-final. With Waterford having reached the All Ireland Final that year the Senior Hurling Championship was being run off week in week out and Ballygunner, just one week after seeing off Thurles Sarsfields after extra time, faced into that semi-final playing for the eighth successive week. In an absolute thriller the Gunners showed great spirit and determination to come from behind and take a two point lead with a J. J. Hutchinson goal in the closing minutes. Further points from Billy O’Keeffe and J. J. opened up a four point lead before a late Seadna Morey goal left a single point in it at the final whistle.
Eleven of the Sixmilebridge team that took part In that Walsh Park game saw action in their club’s county final win over Cratloe this year while nine of the Ballygunner side that started that game started in the county final against De La Salle though Conor Power went on early in the second half while the Hutchinsons, Wayne and J. J. went on late in the game.
GUNNERS BETTER THIS YEAR?
The Ballygunner team that lined out in the county final showed four changes in personnel from the side that beat Na Piarsaigh in last year’s Munster final and we are unlikely to see any change going into Sunday’s game. What has been a big plus for Ballygunner this year has been the manner in which their younger players in Conor Sheahan, Paddy Leavy, Michael Mahony and Dessie Hutchinson have slotted seamlessly into the roles of experienced absentees in Wayne Hutchinson, Harley Barnes, Conor Power and Brian O’Sullivan. Indeed, there is a volume of opinion out there that this year’s Gunners side is better than that which won Munster last year.
There is a solid, experienced core to this Ballygunner side in goalkeeper Stephen O’Keeffe, defenders Barry Coughlan, Ian Kenny, Shane O’Sullivan and Philip Mahony while up front Pauric Mahony’s leadership and the pace of Peter Hogan and Dessie Hutchinson can be a handful for any opposition. Overall this is a fit and fresh Ballygunner side with a tremendous work ethic going right through with sights firmly set on going one better than last year.
THE FITZ FACTOR
They will go into this game under no illusions as to what they will be up against. Davy Fitzgerald will have his team really up for this game on home ground. They will be motivated to avenge that defeat of two years ago in Walsh Park and in players like Seadna Morey, Cathal Malone, Jamie Shanahan, Shane Golden, Paidi Fitzpatrick, Evan McInerney and Conor Deasy they too are a side of experienced and talented players.
Besides Sixmilebridge, Ballygunner have seen off strong Clare sides such as Cratloe in recent times and former Munster champions Ballyea last year. It is going to be very difficult on Sunday but they have the confidence and the ability continue that run and so set up a home semi-final against Limerick champions Patrickswell two weeks later.