The Irish World Senior Hurling Championship Final Preview
By Damian Dolan
Robert Emmetts should arguably have been going for four-in-a-row this year. Champions in 2015 and 2016, they had already secured the league Division 1 trophy last year, before despatching St Gabriel’s in the championship semi-finals.
They then lined up against Kilburn Gaels in the county final. It was the Emmetts’ title to lose for many.
But Kilburn had other ideas, and they had a plan. Kilburn went on to win 1-16 to 0-14. By captain Gary Hill’s own admission, Emmetts “never turned up on the day”.
“Kilburn were ready for us in the final,” Hill told the Irish World.
“Everything was going well. We beat a strong Gabriels team, but to be fair to Kilburn they had a plan that day. The game was played on their terms and they got the job done. We’re back this year to atone.”
Hill and Emmetts have every reason to be confident going into Sunday’s decider. Having finished strongly to beat a spirited Sean Treacys in their ‘Round Robin’ opener, Emmetts were looking down the barrel against St Gabriels.
Kevin McMullan’s side trailed by three points after just six minutes with Gabriels threatening to blow them away early doors, just as they had Kilburn.
Despite being gifted a goal, Emmetts then trailed by 0-9 to 1-2 as Gabriels built a lead. Emmetts were hanging on in there, but hang on they did.
Slowly but surely they turned the tide, blunting Gabriels attacking arsenal to win by 1-15 to 0-15. It was a mightily impressive victory and performance, and one that Gabriels will be wary of Emmetts repeating.
That game was “the making of” Emmetts says Hill, who is in his second spell with the club having won a senior title in 2011.
“Tom (Lally) and Eoin (Kelly) had them (Gabriels) flying and they started very well,” he said.
But Emmetts really “fought” to claw their way back into the game.
“The forwards they have, they can score from anywhere. They’re a strong team and we ground it out. Benny [McGarry] didn’t miss a free, Killian [Burke] was brilliant and the lads at the back kept it tight.
From Loughiel in Antrim, McGarry has been prolific for Emmetts, scoring heavily in the ‘Round Robin’ against Treacys (0-8), Gabriels (0-10) and contributing another ten points in last Saturday’s win over Kilburn.
“He’s an exceptional hurler. He was unbelievable against Gabriels – he won the game. He drives things on in training like he’s been here forever,” said Hill.
Cork senior hurler Burke has been another quality addition to the team.
“Killian has such a high pedigree. He really grinds the teeth. He’s an exceptional hurler. He was doing it with London and now he’s doing it with us,” said Hill, who comes from New Ross in Co Wexford.
He’s one half of a very formidable ball-winning and play-making, midfield pairing for Emmetts, alongside Tadgh Healy (Buttervant, Cork).
“Tadgh is unbelievable under a high ball. He’s a driver in the dressing room; he’s one of our main guys. He’s a good personality and everyone rows in behind him.”
Emmetts then “started like trains” against Kilburn in the abandoned game, opening up a 1-15 to 0-3 lead, before hurling became very much secondary with the collapse of Brian Regan.
Emmetts won the re-fixed game last Saturday, played in wet and windy conditions.
It was Burke who drove Emmetts on in the second half – a game Hill admits was difficult to play following the events of seven days earlier involving Regan.
“It was a difficult day after what happened. We were just relieved to get over it. Brian is in our thoughts and the Emmetts club wishes Brian all the best for his recovery,” said Hill.
“We knew we weren’t going to be 12 or 13 points [again] coming up to half-time – that was never going to happen. We just needed to get the job done, especially in that weather.
“It was a dogged game. They came out with a plan again and they nearly pulled it off. We were lucky in the end to get over the line.”
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But Emmetts can be dogged too. They’ve shown their fighting qualities more than once this year.
They go into Sunday’s final having not conceded a goal in the ‘Round Robin’ or in their Round 1 win over Brothers Pearse.
“It says a lot about our goalie Sean Ryan and our backline that we haven’t conceded a goal. Sean is flying and his puck-outs are brilliant,” said Hill.
Another key to reaching Sunday’s final has been their fitness levels, which saw them finish strongly against Kilburn, Treacys and Gabriels.
“We probably spent all of July and August running – we didn’t bring the hurls to training,” said Hill.
“You can see the fitness levels. We just need to drive it on for one more week.”
As for Sunday’s final, Hill believes it’s up for grabs.
“It’ll be whoever turns up on the day and gets the job done,” he said.