For Paudie O’Dwyer, whose Kilmallock team – Limerick champions – face Thurles Sarsfields in the Munster Club SHC semi-final in Kilmallock tomorrow, it’s a little of both.
“I presume it’s because of the huge tradition Thurles Sars have as a hurling club and with all their star players (that they are favourites) but we’re kind of happy we’re the underdogs. We hadn’t won a county since 1994, which is why people are probably writing us off. Also, this is still a young team, our average age is only about 23 – I’m the oldest on the team that started in the county final. And I’m only 27!”
Yes indeed, all those star Sars players, and as a converted wing-forward (he was a half-back), Paudie is going to be up close and personal many times in this game with one of them, Thurles centre-back Padraic Maher.
“We all know how well he did with Tipperary this year. He is an outstanding player but they have a very strong half-back line generally. I saw a small bit of their county final win on TG4 and I was very impressed with their two wing-backs. They’re laden with stars – Lar Corbett is Hurler-of-the-Year and a major threat, they have Michael Cahill, Pa Bourke, and youngsters like Denis Maher in the forwards. But we’ll see how it goes on the day. They have their strengths, their weaknesses, and so have we, and we’ll be trying to counteract each other.”
Those who believe this game is a foregone conclusion need to think again. Thurles have all those stars, and have a magnificent tradition. But, Kilmallock have outstanding hurlers of their own, Paudie among them – goalkeeper Barry Hennessey is an inspirational figure, as is Gavin O’Mahony at centre-back, Bryan O’Sullivan is a talented wing-back, while up front you have the omnipresent threat of Andrew O’Shaughnessy, the speedy Graeme Mulcahy, and Graeme’s younger brother, the skilful Jake.
Then you look at Kilmallock’s own tradition. Admittedly they didn’t win their first Limerick senior title until 1960, but even as Thurles Sars were fading in Tipperary, Kilmallock were rising in Limerick. They have won eight county titles since, and two Munster clubs – far more impressive recent history than Thurles, who have yet to win a provincial crown.
O’Dwyer agreed: “We do have a great recent tradition, including those Munster titles in 1992 and ‘94. That was in the Mike Houlihan era. We’ve all won minor and U21 on this team, and now we’ve won a senior, which was what people had expected of us. The supporters probably felt we should have won it far sooner, and far more easily, but as we’ve learned ourselves, there’s a big difference between underage and senior, it’s a huge step up. Thank God we’ve managed to win our own county now, which takes the supporters off our backs.”
They’re not any kind of surprise package, Kilmallock; their win this year was overdue, in fact, new manager Tony Considine providing the push they needed. “It was hard for us for the last few years to watch while other South Limerick teams were winning counties, teams like Bruree and Garyspillane (coached, ironically, by Considine, and conquerors of Kilmallock in that final). Okay, they deserved to win those titles, but it was hard to look on. It was only when Tony came on board that things began to change. He changed our mental attitude, introduced a very professional set-up. He brought Dermot Mullins with him, a teacher in Crescent Comprehensive; Dermot is our physical trainer, an unbelievable man, and the two of them are brilliant. Tony has outstanding hurling knowledge, he has really brought us on and the proof is there in our progress through Limerick, and now in a Munster club semi-final.”
This will be a real tough contest in the depths of winter, be sure of that. Thurles retained their title in a very competitive environment in Tipperary, they have all those county stars to call on, they came very close against Newtownshandrum last year, so they’ve earned the right to be favourites.