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Wednesday 24 January 2018

Forward in unison fly Glenealy into battle

Glenealy’s Jonathan O’Neill Jnr blasts to the Eire Óg net for a goal during the SHC semi-final replay in Joule Park, Aughrim.
Glenealy’s Jonathan O’Neill Jnr blasts to the Eire Óg net for a goal during the SHC semi-final replay in Joule Park, Aughrim.

Mark Saturday, December 2, 2017, as a historic day: Glenealy, 15 time county champions, will step across a new frontier for a Wicklow hurling team into the unknown territory of the Leinster club final.

Wicklow teams have reached the semi-final before, Bray went closest last year when they were only beaten by two points by a Seamus Murphy managed Celbridge, but Glenealy's three-point win over St Anne's secured their place in history. Almost 60 years to the day since their first Wicklow championship, Glenealy go in search of their first Leinster championship.

In their way is St Patrick's, Ballyragget, the Kilkenny Intermediate champions. This was only their second Intermediate championship while they also won the Junior county championship in 2011 and went on to win the All-Ireland title the following February. They lost three county final since then, in 2012, 2014 and 2015, two of them to the eventual All-Ireland Intermediate champions.

In Kilkenny they beat Tullaroan, home to Padraig and Tommy Walsh, in the county semi-final before accounting for Graigue Ballycallen, home to Eddie Brennan, in the final.

The main attraction on their team is Kevin Kelly, a player who has been in and out of the Kilkenny starting 15 over the past few years. A superb underage star, he scored a goal in the 2016 All-Ireland final against Tipperary.

He is their free taker and racks up big scores for the club, hitting 0-11 out of 2-20 in their semi-final win over Kiltale. They overcame the Meath champions, who have Jack Regan in their ranks, by 10 points following a lightening start in the first half.

In the quarter-final against Ardclough of Kildare they started slowly, only leading by a point at half time before a devastating second half display gave them thirteen point victory.

While Kelly will steal all the limelight, St Patrick's have many more dangerous players to call upon. The Brennan brothers are likely to chip in with a few points while veteran Brian Phelan, if fit, is worth a point or two.

Glenealy's march to the final has come on the back of an unbeaten year in championship, their four victories and two draws in the group stages put them straight into the Wicklow semi-final. Their win over Bray in the third round by ten points really ignited their charge towards the county championship and made the rest of the county sit up and take notice.

They overcame Éire Óg in a high scoring semi-final before reversing the 2014 final result by beating Bray Emmets. They beat Thomas Davis of Dublin in the Leinster quarter final and dispatched of Wexford Intermediate champions St Anne's in the semi-final.

In each of those matches Glenealy were behind at various stages only to dig out a result from nowhere. Against Bray they were three points down with 20 minutes to go but outscored their northern counterparts by 1-08 to a point to pull out the win.

Against Thomas Davis they were in dire straits, seven points down with 10 minutes to play. Goals by Jonathan O'Neill Jnr and Alan Driver along with three points by Jonathan O'Neill Snr gave them an unlikely two point win.

Against St Anne's they were behind by four in the first half and then let a five-point lead dwindle to one in the final quarter before two frees secured a three point win.

They will go into the Leinster final as firm underdogs against the Kilkenny men but they have good memories and good players at their disposal.

Glenealy beat St Patrick's in the Féile a few years ago with Jamie and Emmet Byrne turning some heads among the Ballyragget supporters who christened them little terriers for their all action displays. For the Minors involved in the team they will remember Nowlan Park as the pitch where they won a Celtic Challenge last year.

Glenealy will look towards their best players to perform at their best if they have any chance of winning. Kevin Kelly is likely to start at centre forward and it will be interesting to see who Garry Laffan details to mark him.

Danny Staunton could be placed at centre back to stand toe to toe with him or Warren Kavanagh may be moved out from full back to stop him.

Both players have been in outstanding form throughout the year but will face a big challenge against Kelly.

Jonathan O'Neill Snr has come back into the team this year at midfield and his accuracy from frees has pulled Glenealy out of the fire on more than one occasion. Beside him in midfield John Manley will work all day to help out his defence and nullify the St Patrick's threat.

In the forward line Jonathan Jnr has an eye for goal in corner forward while Leighton Glynn will look to influence the game like only he can.

It makes for a wonderful occasion for Glenealy as a club and for Wicklow as a county. Not too many people will give them a chance on Saturday, they are going up against a Kilkenny hurling team after all, but it's only 15 players against 15 players and they have every chance of doing it.

One Wicklow team has already shocked the country, now it's time for their near neighbours to do the same.

Bray People

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