Sunday 16 June 2019

This is Charleville's biggest test to date

All Ireland Club IHC Semi-Final: Charleville v Graigue-Ballycallan, Saturday, January 19, Semple Stadium, 2pm

Charleville take on Graigue-Ballycallan for a place in the All-Ireland Hurling Final
Charleville take on Graigue-Ballycallan for a place in the All-Ireland Hurling Final

Diarmuid Sheehan

Charleville will take to the field next weekend looking to secure a place in their second All Ireland Hurling Final, only seven years after the north Cork club reached the national final at junior level.

This time it is at intermediate grade that Charleville compete and while the standards of competition have increased immeasurably since the last national campaign, so has Charleville's levels of professionalism, talent and commitment.

Back in the 2012 final Ballyragget of Kilkenny spoiled the party with a one point win over the men in red and even though the opposition in this weekend's semi-final also come in the shape of Kilkenny champions Charleville have every chance of making a return to headquarters to right the wrongs of that fateful day.

Graigue-Ballycallan will stand in Charleville's way this weekend bringing plenty Kilkenny know-how to the table however Charleville are no slouches themselves and have the result of this one firmly in their own hands - and they have been doing everything in their power to prepare correctly for what will be another massive day for this high achieving club.

Charleville have been hugely impressive throughout the 2018 season bagging the Cork premier grade in some style before muscling their way through the provincial competition like a side destined for greatness.

It would be misleading to say that they have impressed throughout, as there have been many challenges along the way, most notably failing to deliver in the opening half against Feakle, which saw them trail by 10 points at the interval, but Charleville showed all their class to fight back and take the win by a goal in the most dramatic of circumstances.

Charleville won't be able to give the Kilkenny champions anything like that kind of an advantage or they will lose, and lose heavily at that, but with the likes of Cork star Darragh Fitzgibbon in the middle of this one and Captain Danny O'Flynn, either by his side or up front (after recovering from a serious hand injury picked up earlier in the year), Charleville are not likely to fall into the same trap twice.

Charleville need to play their own game, the game that saw them brush aside some of the best intermediate sides in Cork, and they need to play it right from the off. No big leads can be given up, no areas of the pitch can be conceded and no loose ball can go unchallenged. Charleville need to be at this one right from the off and with Ben O'Connor on the side-line who would bet against Charleville flying from the traps.

Fitzgibbon will obviously receive major attention from the Graigue-Ballycallan pack with at least one Kilkenny man bound to be assigned the job of making sure the All Star doesn't run riot, but Charleville have much more threats up and down the pitch and will cause their opponents plenty of problems.

Darren Butler, Darren Casey, Jack Doyle and Finbar Cagney will be huge players for Charleville this weekend as will the likes of Andrew Cagney, Jack O'Callaghan and Jack Buckley, who all deserve great credit for the way they not only helped Charleville fight back from what looked like a no win situation in the provincial final, but also throughout this record-breaking season that sees Charleville hit the big time of Cork senior hurling for 2019.

Of course, much will be made of the fact that Charleville have Cork legend Ben O'Connor on the side line pulling the strings, but Charleville also have club lifers Tony McAuliffe and John Moloney calling the shots from the management dugout which anyone in the know around north Cork will tell you is a pretty impressive trio.

Charleville will need to start well and keep up the pace and intensity, but that won't just happen because the players and fans want it to happen, the mind-set needs to be right, the training and preparation need to be right and the players heads need to be in the right place and while all these prerequisites are difficult to master Charleville must deliver on all fronts if they want to book a second date at Croker.

On the man power front Charleville have what it takes to win this, on the passion front there are no questions and on the bottle front well, that really can't be questioned. Charleville have what it takes to book their spot in the last two, now they just need to go and do it.

If Charleville come out of the blocks well they may well take the spoils on the day, but if they let the Kilkenny side get a run on them then this one will be over well before the final whistle.

This one has thriller written all over it and I for one can't wait to put on my partisan hat and follow Charleville through what could be the biggest day in the club's history.