Preview: Weekend’s AIB All-Ireland Club Hurling Semi-Finals:

AIB All-Ireland Club SHC Semi-Finals
Saturday 16th December
St Thomas’ v Ballygunner, Laois Hire O’Moore Park, 7.30pm

Sunday 17th December
O’Loughlin Gaels v Ruairí Óg, Cushendall, Páirc Tailteann, 1.30pm

A place in next month’s AIB All-Ireland Club SHC Final is the significant prize on offer at two venues this weekend.

Saturday evening’s encounter under the Portlaoise lights between Ballygunner and St Thomas’ promises to be an intriguing affair.

Ballygunner delivered a series of accomplished performances retaining their Waterford and Munster crowns.

Dessie Hutchinson continues to supply plenty of attacking class with Pauric Mahony another key scoring contributor.

Elsewhere Stephen O’Keeffe, Barry Coughlan, Philip Mahony, and Shane O’Sullivan bring experience and expertise.

St Thomas’, though, are eager to return to Croke Park, and are boosted by the availability of David Burke.

Galway’s All-Ireland winning captain in 2017 has recently returned following a cruciate ligament injury to make a couple of cameo appearances in the closing rounds of the county championship.

That made it six Galway titles on the spin for Thomas’, who will be looking to Fintan Burke, Eanna Burke, and the prolific Conor Cooney for inspiration.

At Páirc Tailteann on Sunday Ruairí Óg Cushendall face O’Loughlin Gaels.

Cushendall enjoyed some stirring wins in Antrim and Ulster, especially in the provincial decider against Slaughtneil.

During that match Neil McManus, Joseph McLaughlin, and Ed McQuillan contributed handsomely for Ruairí Óg.

It has been a heartening campaign too for O’Loughlin Gaels, who have made real progress under Brian Hogan.

Paddy Deegan’s splendid last gasp point dethroned Ballyhale Shamrocks in Kilkenny, but in Leinster O’Loughlin Gaels continued to impress.

Mark Bergin is a key performer, while the versatile Deegan is a gifted performer.

Mikey Butler and Huw Lawlor have sampled action at the highest level too for Kilkenny, but they will be fully aware of the threat a determined Cushendall team carries.

AIB All-Ireland Club IHC Semi-Finals
Saturday 16th December

Tooreen v Castlelyons, Glenisk O’Connor Park, 1.30pm

Sunday 17th December
Thomastown v Setanta, Páirc Esler, 2pm

The AIB All-Ireland Club IHC always offers talking points and stories.

Tooreen’s relevance at this level is noteworthy and a fascinating match against Castlelyons awaits.

Six of the last seven Mayo championships have been won by Tooreen, who subsequently flourished on the Connacht stage.

Eoin Delaney, Shane Boland and Seán Kenny were crafty in the Connacht final success against Ballinderreen.

Winning a national title is the objective, but Castlelyons, managed by Noel Furlong, have made real strides this year.

Anthony Spillane’s hat-trick of goals decorated a fine display against Corofin, while Colm Spillane and Keith O’Leary were hugely effective also.

In the other semi-final, Setanta from Donegal will be hoping to cause a surprise against Thomastown.

Danny Cullen, Declan Coulter, and Gerry Gilmore were influential in the Ulster decider against Carrickmore.

Robbie Donnelly and John Donnelly impressed for Thomastown in the Leinster final win over Bray Emmets in Aughrim.

AIB All-Ireland Club JHC Semi-Finals
Saturday 16th December

Easkey v St Catherine’s, Ballinasloe, 1.30pm

Sunday 17th December
Tullogher Rosbercon v Castleblayney Hurling, The Downs, 1.30pm

Easkey’s development is a remarkable hurling story so Saturday’s match in Ballinasloe against St Catherine’s will be worth monitoring.

Andrew Kilcullen is Easkey’s chief scoring threat, registering 1-11 in the Connacht final against Ballinasloe.

St Catherine’s, managed by former Cork boss Denis Walsh, are a promising outfit with teenager Seán Walsh a central figure in the Munster win over Feenagh-Kilmeedy.

In The Downs on Sunday Castleblayney, who have progressed recently too, face Tullogher-Rosbercon.

Walter Walsh is Tullogher-Rosbercon’s talisman so Castleblayney will need to restrict the Kilkenny forward’s influence.

Thomas Hughes and Fergal Rafter starred for Blayney in the Ulster final victory over St Eunan’s.