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Ballyhale in driving seat

LEINSTER CLUB SHC SEMI-FINAL

OULART-THE BALLAGH (Wexford) v BALLYHALE SHAMROCKS (Kilkenny)

(Wexford Park, Tomorrow, 2.0)

IF motivation counts for anything, then Oulart-The Ballagh are the boys to back in the second of this year's Leinster hurling semi-finals.

They've lost the last two provincial finals. The season before could have been their year too: they lost a quarter-final epic after extra-time to Ballyhale, who went on to claim the All-Ireland crown.

Now the boys of Wexford face the Shamrocks once more. And that, worryingly from an Oulart perspective, is where the value of motivation may start to recede.

You see, in many respects, Ballyhale are Kilkenny in microcosm. Partly that's because there's a significant crossover of individuals -- Henry Shefflin, Michael and Colin Fennelly, and not forgetting their (prematurely) retired county star, James 'Cha' Fitzpatrick.

Shefflin is the current Hurler of the Year. He assumed that mantle from Michael Fennelly. These are not just great hurlers but leaders of substance. Even beyond that, this generation have echoed the Kilkenny set-up under Brian Cody in their ability to keep coming back, year after year.

That said, Oulart shouldn't (and probably won't) be weighed down by any inferiority complex. Even the painful memory of 2009 should offer some solace: they led Ballyhale by an incredible nine points after 22 minutes and were seconds away from victory at the end of normal time.

The Wexford champions have a wealth of inter-county experience. They are at home tomorrow. The ongoing injury absence of TJ Reid leaves them with one less Kilkenny ace to worry about. They may even sense that Ballyhale aren't quite the force of old: this is their first time out of Kilkenny in three years and even their county final victory was more workmanlike than vintage stuff. Enough reason to back an upset? Not quite!

ODDS: Oulart 21/10, Draw 10/1, Ballyhale 4/9

VERDICT: Ballyhale

CONNACHT CLUB SFC FINAL

ST BRIGID'S (Roscommon) v BALLAGHADERREEN (Mayo)

(Castlebar, Tomorrow 2.0, deferred TG4)

AN intriguing clash on many levels, not least because it's an all-Roscommon showdown (geographically speaking!) while one of Mayo's most famous sons (Kevin McStay) is managing St Brigid's. Peel away these sub-plots and it's hard to see Ballaghaderreen minus Andy Moran having the necessary attacking prowess.

ODDS: St Brigid's 2/5, Draw 15/2, Ballaghaderreen 13/5 VERDICT: St Brigid's

MUNSTER CLUB SHC FINAL

THURLES SARSFIELDS (Tipperary) v DE LA SALLE (Waterford)

(Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Tomorrow 2.0, live TG4)

THE kings of Tipp have never conquered Munster. Two years ago they lost to De La Salle in the final by a point. Revenge beckons!

ODDS: Thurles 1/2, Draw 9/1, De La Salle 2/1

VERDICT: Thurles Sarsfields


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