FOUR weeks on from the County Hurling Final, Ballyduff are back in business.
It's been a little bit of a longer break than they would have anticipated as a result of the draw between their opponents next Sunday, Limerick champions Ballybrown, and Cork champions Ballinhassig. That draw puts Ballyduff at a pretty serious disadvantage for Saturday afternoon we would contend. Ballybrown got eighty minutes of top quality hurling in their drawn game followed by another sixty last weekend. Whoever won that semifinal was always going to be in pole position for the clash with Ballyduff.
You'd have to imagine that Ballybrown will be more battle hardened and match sharp than Ballyduff will be. In fairness to Ballyduff (and to the County Board and Kilmoyley) they acted quickly when faced with the prosect of a free Sunday and had the County League final brought forward. It wouldn't have been comparable with a Munster Intermediate Championship quarter-final, but that game in O'Dorney will stand to Ballyduff and a victory over their old rivals won't do them any harm whatsoever in the confidence department.
"We were geared up for last Sunday alright," Ballyduff club chairman Anthony O'Carroll admits.
"But we played a good county league game against Kilmoyley last Sunday and that'll stand to us. We needed that game. We needed a good competitive game. We asked them [the county board] and they were able to facilitate us and Kilmoyley facilitated us as well in fairness, so that game was massive. It was good hurling and it was a tough game. Kimoyley gave them a tough game. That'll stand to us and we've no injuries, which is vital."
There are slight concerns over the availablity of Martin and Ally O'Connor, however. Martin came off nursing a knock during the league final, while Ally hasn't played since the county final against Linxaw. O'Carroll is confident both will be available for selection this weekend. That's a very welcome boost ahead of the game with Ballybrown.
This is the third time in three years Ballyduff will face the Limerick opposition in the Munster intermediate championship. In their two previous meetings with Treaty County opposition they lost – in 2010 in Ballyduff to Hospital / Herbertstown and in last year's final to Effin.
There are two ways to look at that.
Number one with apprehension. Limerick teams have beat them before so why wouldn't they beat them again.
Or number two with confidence. On both those occasions Ballyduff had plenty of reason to feel that they had left it behind them. More so in the game against Hospital / Herbertstown than the one against Effin, even so on both occasions the feeling for the green and white was the same – they didn't play to their full potential. That's what sticks in the craw most of all.
If they go down to Kilmallock this weekend and are beaten by the better team then they will be able to live with that. What they won't be able to live with is another what might have been defeat.
The big worry for Ballyduff remains the long wait for this game having drawn a bye for the Munster semifinal.
"Last year we had a quarter-final and that was vital," O'Carroll says.
"We got a game in early after the county final. This year it has dragged on and dragged on and it's a bit of a pain really, because we're waiting and waiting for a game. We played a few football games, we'd one challenge in hurling and the county league final. We played all of those and only for that we'd be very stale going into the game I'll put it that way to you."
It's just as well they have because this Ballybrown team look a serious side. They're solid. They never give up and on both days proved they can score. One thing Ballyduff will have to look out for is full-forward Alan O'Connor. He's a super finisher but most importantly is deadly accurate from the placed ball. Ballyduff cannot give sloppy frees away because if they do they'll be punished for it. Their half-forward line looks tasty too with Kyle Loftus and Bryan Griffin (a Limerick minor hurler) impressing against Ballinhassig last weekend.
"PJ [O'Grady, the Ballyduff manager] would be very familiar with Ballybrown," O'Carroll says.
"He'd only be up the road from them. He'd be very familiar with their style of play and their good players and the way they play and their stars. He'd be well up on them and he'd have the inside track on them and hopefully will know how to beat them."
Ballyduff proved last year they've got the hurlers to live with any team at this level. They haven't yet reached the heights of last year, but perhaps, that's what makes them a dangerous proposition for Ballybrown this weekend. They're the underdogs despite the fact they reached the final last year. A position that suits them down to the ground. If they click, if they can get up to speed with this Ballybrown side early doors, then they can win.
But we keep coming back to that replay and the benefits it bestows upon the Limerick outfit. They are many and they could prove the difference in Kilmallock on Saturday.