Winning one club All-Ireland title is tough. They are not easy to win. If they were, everyone would do so, which makes Portumna’s quest for an unprecedented three-in-a-row all the more remarkable.
It would be a tremendous achievement and would rank them as the finest side in the history of club hurling if they can win next Wednesday.
No club has ever won three All-Ireland club titles in succession, not even the great Birr, Athenry, or Sarsfields club sides. Now the Shannonsiders stand on the cusp of history.
Portumna manager Johnny Kelly is fully aware of the challenge that the Kilkenny men pose. “They are a quality, quality side and we have some class performers in our panel too so it should be a great occasion,” he says.
“ They will be looking for revenge for their defeat last year. I don’t think they expected us to play as well as we did and they will be better prepared for our style of play this year. All in all it has the makings of an intriguing game and one we are all looking forward to.
“The key battle will be with the middle eight and both inside lines can do damage if they get early ball.”
Ballyhale will be smarting from last year’s big All-Ireland semi-final defeat and their manager Michael Fennell will not have to bring a stick into the dressingroom to get his charges pumped up;
“We were very disappointed with last year’s performance. There were a lot of mistakes made. This year now we’ve worked on those mistakes and we have great motivation ahead of this final.”
No more than Portumna with Niall Hayes back from suspension, team selection for Ballyhale will prove a difficult.
“We have yet to decide our starting team as that’s always a difficult decision. It would be a memorable moment for us if we win particularly for our parish,” said Fennelly.
Henry Shefflin has been scoring about nine points a game (1-32 in four games ) and Kelly’s side will have to be disciplined to stop conceding scorable frees.
“Definitely. Any free within 60 or 70 yards is a scorable one with the likes of Henry or Joe around, so both sets of defences and midfields will be on red alert to try to keep indisciplined tackling to the minimum.
“We will be giving it our absolutely best shot and hopefully that will be good enough on the day. We have a magnificent group of men on our panel and I know that they will leave everything on the field to try and bring success back to the club.”
History beckons for either side
History will be made irrespective of who wins the final next Wednesday. If Ballyhale win the final, they will move to the top of the honours table on five titles, one ahead of Birr (Offaly ).
If Portumna win, they will become the first club in either code to win three successive All-Ireland titles, having won the last two titles with wins over Birr and De La Salle (Waterford ) in the finals.
Between them, they have won the last four All-Ireland titles with Portumna prevailing in 2006-2008-2009 while Ballyhale were successful in 2007. James Stephens (Kilkenny ) won the 2005 title, beating Athenry of Galway in the final, which underlines the grip that Galway and Kilkenny have exerted on the club championship in recent years.
•Throw in is at 2pm on Wednesday, March 17 and the game is live on TG4.