AIB ALL-IRELAND CLUB SHC SEMI-FINAL:
Portumna (Galway) v Na Piarsigh (Limerick)
Galway champions Portumna have been on a tour of the neighbouring counties for the last few rain-sodden weeks.
Manager Frank Canning admitted the quest to find suitable training facilities has been exhaustive in preparation for tomorrow’s All-Ireland Club SHC semi-final in Semple Stadium against Limerick and Munster kingpins Na Piarsaigh.
“It’s tough. We’re going all over the place trying to get the combination of lights and a good field,” he said.
“We actually have perfect lights in Portumna but our field is destroyed after the rain. You couldn’t train on it. We’ve been in Cappataggle [Galway] on the astroturf pitch, in Carrig & Riverstown, near Birr, and we go to Banagher a good bit [both Offaly]. They have a sand-based pitch with lights.
“We’ve trained in Crinkill in Birr, in Ballingarry [Tipperary], in Clonfert [Meelick-Eyrecourt, Galway], in Pearses which is actually in Roscommon, just outside Ballinasloe.
“We played a match in Whitegate [Clare], another in Thurles in Dr Morris Park – that was actually in great shape, probably the best place we came across.
“It’s a pain in the arse but sure it’s the same for everyone. No pitch is in perfect condition at this time of year. The astroturf is fine but it can give you a false sense of where the ball will bounce.
“You try your best to stay off that but then when you’re up to your knees in muck and shite what can you do?
“We’ve been around the world a bit, that’s for sure but a lot of clubs would give their right hand to be in our position so you do what you have to.”
That’s it, isn’t it? Tough as they’re having it in trying to find suitable training facilities, Portumna are in another All-Ireland semi-final, their sixth since the club made its Galway senior breakthrough back in 2003.
They’ve converted three of their five previous excursions into All-Ireland silverware, an impressive strike-rate, and are the most successful club in hurling over the last decade.
Beaten inside Galway for the three years 2010/11/12, however, many felt that was the end of this particular team.
But such thoughts were premature, as the men from the Offaly/Tipperary border stormed back in 2013 to take another well-earned title.
There’s been no revolution either, says Frank, a member of one of the most famous families in hurling with brothers Ollie and Joe household names.
“Not really. From the team that won the 2003 county final we’ll have eight starting again on Saturday, that’s more than half of the current starting 15.
Eugene McEntee [full-back] is still there, so are Eoin Lynch, Leo and Andrew Smith, Damien and Niall Hayes, Kevin Hayes, Ollie. That’s eight.”
One who wasn’t there in 2003 but should have been, says Frank, is Joe, the youngest of the clan.
“Joe was only a babby in 2003. He came on in ’04 when he was only 16 but he was good enough in 2003 too.
“If we had played him instead of me against Dunloy in the All-Ireland semi-final in 2004 we’d probably have bet them.
“I was 33 at the time, he was definitely better than me already but people thought he was too young.” Speaking of age, Ollie is 37 now but by all accounts the multiple All Star is still hurling as well asever.
“He’s super-fit, minds himself very well, has always looked after himself. He’s up in the forwards now which takes some of the pressure off him.
“There was one game where our centre-back, Martin Dalton, was gone to America and Ollie played there that day but otherwise he has started every game up front.”
Given the potency of the Na Piarsaigh attack though, any temptation to bring him back for this one, perhaps as sweeper?
“They’re strong up front but we have options, there’s huge flexibility in the team.
“We’ll start with what we have then adapt to the situation as it develops, that’s the key thing.
“Obviously they’re a serious obstacle for us, they’ll be the favourites and it’ll be a big ask.
“The big question for us is the legs, so many miles on the clock.
“Na Piarsaigh are a big physical side, we’ll just have to go and see how we get on and hopefully our best will be good enough. If it’s not, I’ll be the first to shake hands and congratulate them.”
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