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Saturday 7 December 2019

Martin's major weekend

Two big provincial tests ahead in hurling and camogie

St. Martin’s captain Marie-Claire Morrissey and her St. Vincent’s counterpart, Ali Maguire, at the Rock of Dunamase near Portlaoise
St. Martin’s captain Marie-Claire Morrissey and her St. Vincent’s counterpart, Ali Maguire, at the Rock of Dunamase near Portlaoise

There's no debate surrounding the importance of this weekend for St. Martin's.

On Saturday afternoon their hurlers face an acid test when they come up against reigning All-Ireland champions, Ballyhale Shamrocks, in UPMC Nowlan Park in the AIB Leinster Club semi-final, while 24 hours later their camogie team will put their Senior provincial title on the line against Dublin champions, St. Vincent's, in Ashbourne.

Having won two county Senior hurling titles in the past three years, with their only setback being last season's final defeat to Naomh Eanna, St. Martin's will take this experience with them into a huge game, as in Ballyhale Shamrocks they are meeting one of the leading club sides in the country.

It is fair to say that St. Martin's will need a display far exceeding their county final form if they are to entertain a realistic chance of upsetting their semi-final opponents, who carry real talent in each line.

St. Martin's will need real leaders to meet this challenge, as their opponents will be calling on the services of players like T.J. Reid, Colin Fennelly and young hurler of the year Adrian Mullen in attack, along with the experienced Joey Holden in defence.

Early in the year St. Martin's were everyone's favourites to lift the county title. The fact that they achieved that target was a reward in itself, but it will not be lost on the players and backroom team that they reached their goal without hitting the heights expected.

There is much more in this side and, while their younger players are maturing, it will still take star-studded performances from their more established players if they are cope with the challenge that lies ahead.

For instance, Joe O'Connor will be tasked with the challenge of keeping All Star Colin Fennelly quiet on the fringe of the square, while Willie Devereux faces a huge challenge in coping with the scoring power of T.J. Reid.

There's no doubt that Joery Holden will be given a man-marking task in defence, so it's crucial that the returning Rory O'Connor is freed for a half-forward role, while both Jack O'Connor and Joe Coleman will be looked to for crucial scores.

Wexford and Kilkenny clashes have been close and hard-fought all year. This should be no excepetion, but Ballyhale Shamrocks will still carry the tag of favourites.

Meanwhile, that winning feeling has been sweet for the St. Martin's camogie team in the last few years, and they have another chance to add to their string of successes when they go out in the AIB Leinster Senior championship final against St. Vincent's in Ashbourne on Sunday (2.30 p.m.).

Having come through the Wexford Senior championship battle-hardened, the Piercestown-based club made their way past Kilkenny champions Dicksboro with plenty to spare in the semi-final on Sunday week.

The build-up has not been without turmoil. Having basically played last season's Leinster final as an away game, facing off against Thomastown in Nowlan Park, St. Martin's are now expected to make their way to Co. Meath this time around.

That's a 171 km journey for the Wexford champions, with their opposition making the much more comfortable 24 km spin just over the border.

While it's a little more equitable, with both St. Rynagh's and Camross asked to travel over 100 kms for the Intermediate decider, it's far from sensible.

St. Martin's did ask Leinster camogie to reconsider their choice of venue, given the disadvantage they are set to face, and have overcome previously.

True to form though, the provincial body appears to have little actual regard for those involved in their showpiece club games and will suit themselves.

If anything, that attitude should add to the St. Martin's fire. They have been a more expansive, exciting team to watch as their players mature this season.

While they have weaknesses, every club does and this fixture will be as much about who best manages them as whose best players show up.

In their Leinster semi-final, St. Martin's had six different scorers, which bodes well for a side which has often been reliant on a few players to do the damage.

They also conceded just 1-3 from play and that should give their defence a nice boost of confidence at just the right time.

St. Vincents won't be totally unfamiliar for the All-Ireland finalists, as the sides met in the provincial semi-final in 2017 and St. Martin's were comfortably too good, winning by 1-11 to 0-5 in that game.

The northside Dublin club won their county title at the end of October, beating St. Jude's by 4-11 to 2-5, with Aisling Maher and Niamh Hetherton doing the bulk of the scoring.

The experienced Dublin star Ali Maguire is probably their biggest name and always take some watching.

The good news for St. Martin's is they have a clean bill of health heading into their two-in-a-row bid.

They are tipped to take the win and move on to another All-Ireland semi-final in early 2020, but expect it to be closer than the 2017 contest between these clubs.

Enniscorthy Guardian

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