Kilkenny stand in Clare’s way of claiming a second ever All-Ireland Intermediate Hurling title with throw-in scheduled for 6pm this evening.
Pat O’Grady is in charge of the Kilkenny outfit, he is well versed on what Clare can bring to the table having lost out to them in the 2011 equivalent while he previously served as the Clare GAA Games Development Officer in the nineties.
“Usually the intermediate side is made up of players who have just gone over the under-21 grade. Clare have won three under-21 titles in the last few years so they would lots of players coming through with the experience of top games and, if they haven’t gone on to play senior, would be very close to doing so. You’d expect to see a lot of these guys step up to the mark at senior level over the next few years.”
“They had to come through extra-time in the Munster final (they beat Limerick by 1-26 to 2-18) to get to here. They’ve been battered and bruised but battle-hardened. They’ll be ready for anything Kilkenny can throw at them” O’Grady said of Clare’s journey to the final in conversation with The Kilkenny People.
He mentions the poor record the Cats have in finals against the Banner, they lost the 2011 Intermediate All-Ireland while they fell short in the 2009 and 2012 U21 deciders. Stopping Clare’s running game is something they have worked on in the lead up to the game.
“It’s going to be a huge challenge for us to stop that running game they play. We wouldn’t have much experience in doing that – Wexford played an orthodox 15 against 15 – so it will be interesting to see how we cope with that.”
“The game can’t come round quick enough, but we know what’s ahead of us, Clare have come through some tough competition in Munster. They’re a seasoned side and with Donal Moloney in charge, a man who has been over three under-21 All-Ireland winning sides, together with Seanie McMahon they have serious experience and have put together a very good team,” he added.
Beating Wexford in the Leinster Final was a relief for many of the squad with several of them having been shocked by Westmeath in the U21 competition. O’Grady reveals that this competition has been about atoning that shock defeat and giving the Kilkenny players the belief they need.
“There was relief on their faces after that win, they knew they were good enough; they just needed to get than win under their belts. I think it will bring them on a ton the next day. It just showed that this team is able to play hurling, to have the character needed to come back from six points down with a quarter of the game to play was something else. When Liam Dunne came into the dressing-room after the game he said ‘what is it about Kilkenny – ye are just never beaten’. That was heartening to hear – the lads would have appreciated it.”
Training has been going very well for the Noresiders in the lead-up to this game. “It’s a different animal when you’re training for an All-Ireland final as opposed to any other game. The lads are really well up for this game, with huge positivity in the camp. I couldn’t ask for any more from them – they’ve given us everything.”
O’Grady believes a win for the Intermediates would give Brian Cody’s senior side a big lift heading into their last four clash with Waterford on Sunday. “It’s a difficult task we’re facing, but that’s not to say we’re not thinking about going up to win an All-Ireland. We’ll give it hell in Thurles. Hopefully we can give the senior side a boost for Sunday.”
For the game Kilkenny have made five changes with Aaron Duggan, Geoff Brennan, Luke Scanlon, Alan Murphy and Richie Leahy drafted in for Kevin Nolan, Jack McGrath, Shane Murphy, Conor Tobin and Mark Bergin.
1. Aaron Duggan (Dicksboro)
2. Evan Cody (Dicksboro)
3. Tom Aylward (Mullinavat)
4. Luke Hickey (James Stephens)
5. Jason Cleere (Bennettsbridge)
6. Conor Delaney (Erin’s Own)
7. Geoff Brennan (St Patrick’s)
8. Jack Langton (Clara)
9. Luke Scanlon (James Stephens)
10. Alan Murphy (Glenmore)
11. Conor Tobin (Fenians)
12. Richie Leahy (Bennettsbridge)
13. Billy Ryan (Graigue-Ballycallan)
14. Nicky Cleere (Bennettsbridge)
15. John Walsh (Mullinavat)
16. Kevin Nolan (Clara)
17. James Gannon (St Patrick’s)
18. Enda Malone (Dicksboro)
19. Jack McGrath (James Stephens)
20. Shane Murphy (Glenmore)
21. Sean Morrissey (Bennettsbridge)
22. Shane Donnelly (St Lachtain’s)
23. Mark Alyward (Glenmore)
24. Willie Brennan (Fenians)