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Shefflin's men are keeping their guard up in bid for a hat-trick of All-Ireland titles

 

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When Ballyhale Shamrocks just managed to ease Slaughtneil out of the recent All-Ireland Club Hurling Championship semi-final, they achieved what many perceived to be a rather hollow victory (stock photo)

When Ballyhale Shamrocks just managed to ease Slaughtneil out of the recent All-Ireland Club Hurling Championship semi-final, they achieved what many perceived to be a rather hollow victory (stock photo)

When Ballyhale Shamrocks just managed to ease Slaughtneil out of the recent All-Ireland Club Hurling Championship semi-final, they achieved what many perceived to be a rather hollow victory (stock photo)

When Ballyhale Shamrocks just managed to ease Slaughtneil out of the recent All-Ireland Club Hurling Championship semi-final, they achieved what many perceived to be a rather hollow victory.

The Derry and Ulster champions had remained on their opponents' tail for the greater part of the game until a late, out-of-the-blue goal effectively buried their aspirations of pulling off what would have been one of the biggest shocks in the history of the competition.

Having been suitably chastened, it's hardly surprising that Henry Shefflin's side have been picking their steps carefully ahead of tomorrow's All-Ireland decider against Tipperary and Munster champions Borris-Ileagh at Croke Park (2pm).

Slaughtneil came close to whipping the mat from under their feet, and the spirit and composure that Borris-Ileigh showed in accounting for Galway side St Thomas' in the other semi-final suggests that they might be as difficult to subdue.

But Ballyhale Shamrocks are not the reigning All-Ireland Club champions, or indeed going for a hat-trick, for nothing. Their resilience and physicality are complemented by finesse and quite often sublime artistry in an attack which includes in Colin Fennelly and TJ Reid, two of the greatest finishers in the sport.

Throw in the talented Cody brothers, Eoin and Brian, and you have the kind of firepower that is difficult to stifle.

Yet Borris-Ileigh have brought sporting romance and a captivating demeanour to the All-Ireland table. And, having upset the applecart in Tipperary, they have no intention of resting on their laurels.

Should the gifted Maher connection - Brendan, Kevin and Kieran - be accorded a degree of freedom, then Ballyhale's prospects of retaining their All-Ireland crown may be dimmed.

In Brendan Maher in particular, Borris-Ileigh possess one of the most complete hurlers on the island.

His prodigious scoring feats have served his club well, while brothers Kevin and Kieran provide solid support, as do James Devaney and Conor Kenny.

Shefflin admitted after his team's scare against Slaughtneil that he knew their ability to focus on the one code in an All-Ireland context would bolster their drive for glory, and now he is even more keenly aware that the Borris-Ileigh ambition to follow up their county's dramatic All-Ireland triumph last year with the club title could prove the perfect spur for an upset.

Belfast Telegraph