Fascinating contest is a real toss up
LIXNAW versus Kilmoyley: the never ending story.
They've come face to face nearly every year in this championship over the past couple of seasons. Each time we tip Kilmoyley. Each time Lixnaw come out on top. Each time we assume Kilmoyley's luck will have to change sooner rather than later. It hasn't yet... but could it this Friday evening?
Absolutely it could. They were one of our fancies for the championship. They were one of our fancies for the championship because of the quality of hurler at their disposal, because of the evolving nature of this young side back-boned by serious experience.
It doesn't feel like that long ago that Tom Murnane was the young buck in the side. Now he's well seasoned, as hungry as ever and a more accomplished hurler than ever before. Shane Brick is still one of the most fearsome operators in the county and in Daniel Collins and Colman Savage Kilmoyley have got two of the most impressive young talents in the Kingdom. They're going places this Kilmoyley side. After a couple of years in the doldrums they're back in genine pursuit of the Neilus Flynn.
The fact that they're due a win over their fellow green and gold side isn't lost on Lixnaw's chairman, Sean Flaherty.
"We've enjoyed a few good years," he admits.
"But in the early 2000s they had the same supremacy over us and beat us in County Finals and things. If you look at it you'd have to say there's more of an incentive for them to beat us. Especially if you go through the form-book they had a very easy victory over Abbeydorney and we struggled big time. In Lixnaw / Kilmoyley games there's just a puck of a ball between them, a bit of luck on the day and that's the way it'll go on Friday. "
Lixnaw, of course, are perennial challengers and yet they've caught us all by surprise.
That victory over Ballyduff, the manner of it, the youthful zest, the pace, the dynamism, showed us the folly of our pre-championship assumptions. They are a serious force and for once they were a serious force right out of the box. The Corridans still have it. Kenny Waltz is developing into a fine defender. Brosnan Brosnan likewise, while up front Ricky Heffernan and James Flaherty will give most full-back lines nightmares.
Against Abbeydorney their half-forward line didn't quite click, however. Then again if there's one area of that Kilmoyley team that could stand improvement it's their full-forward line. Strengths and weaknesses every team has them. Until Friday evening in Stack Park we won't be quite certain which way the cookie will crumble. We won't know which side will exploit the other's weaknesses best, which side will make best use of their strengths.
Boosted by the return of John Griffin from holiday, boosted by the return of Trevor McKenna to the panel (but likely not the starting fifteen) Lixnaw will be feeling pretty bullish about their chances. Enda Galvin is another returnee having overcome his injury, even if Raymond Galvin remains on the injury list joined, for the moment, by Paudie Lyons who is doubtful having picked up a hand injury in their month since their last game.
Kilmoyley are injury free going into the game and the fact they have had a n extra game – the quarter-final victory over Abbeydorney – will be their ace card. They've been gradually improving the longer this championship has gone on.
"We didn't have the greatest of times against Causeway at the start of the year. We didn't perform," Kilmoyley boss Leo O'Connnor says.
"We've got the wheels back on the wagon since then. We looked at a few things and we've corrected things since then. I'm not being arogant about it, but Kilmoyley are some of the best hurlers not alone in Kerry, but they've got hurlers that would get on any inter-county team. It's about getting the most out of them, getting a performance out of them and lift their heads and push on."
The extra-game should play right into Kilmoyley's hands. The defeats of both provincial champions in this year's All Ireland Senior Hurling Championship by sides who came through the backdoor will give Lixnaw pause for thought.
"It's a month since we had a game," Flaherty says.
"You can play challenge games all you want, but there's nothing like championship. Having said that the guys are fit, they're eager, they're ready to go."
No doubt they will be. Will it be enough? Kilmoyley, after all, are moving well. They've got the momentum. They're getting better with every game. If this game came in the second round or the quarter-finals Lixnaw would surely get the nod. Now we're not quite sure.
It's really is a toss of the coin.